In 2001 shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan, journalist Anna Badkhen made the arduous journey to Northern Afghanistan. There she developed friendships with many people and fell a little bit in love with their culture and their openness and humanity. At the time they welcomed what they believed would be protection from the Taliban. Nine years later Badkhen returns to the north to see how their friends were doing. This book is a travelogue of her journey. As she reconnects with her friends she is both pleased by their happiness in seeing her again, and heart-broken over what they have suffered. Life is, if anything, worse, not better but still they persevere and live their lives with courage, fortitude, dignity, and no small amount of humor. This is a short, quick read but packed with detail and inspiration.
The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant
This book started out great! I loved the setting and the description of the town. I really liked the characters and the descriptions of the rituals. Much of the folklore (which I always love in stories) was just fabulous and the holidays and much of the dialog reminded me so much of my own German grandma. The town itself became a character on its own.
But then about two-thirds of the way through something happened. It deteriorated into a slightly more colorful Nancy Drew mystery--okay, but certainly a let down from the beginning!
The author is a gifted writer and she did a great job of setting up an intriguing plot. I give it an extra star just for the beautiful intermingling of folktales. But I wish she had made the mystery more compatible with the rest of the story. Plus I really liked Wolfgang and Pia seemed to adore him and he just got dropped from the story. This is a good book if you appreciate colorful settings, rituals, and mythology, but as a mystery it was rather flat.
This book is just devastating! The end had me too weepy to actually read. The story begins in a Beirut hotel where the unnamed narrator is about to carry out a mission he refers to as “the greatest operation ever carried out on enemy territory.” We learn that he was a university student from a small village in Iraq but after the invasion the university closes and her returns to his small village. For awhile life is as it has always been. He is restless and wishes he could return to school or at least find work but then reminds himself that at least the war has not affected his village. Then things change.
Following the killing of a mentally handicapped village boy by soldiers at a checkpoint and the then the bombing of a wedding party, young men from the village grow increasingly restless and begin leaving for Baghdad, hoping to fight back. The narrator grows increasingly frustrated. When his family home is invaded and his father humiliated in front of the family, he can no longer bear it and he too leaves for Baghdad. At first he tries to lead a normal life but conditions there make that impossible. He winds up on the street and after weeks of being homeless he discovers his cousin Sayed has a prosperous business selling appliances. Sayed takes him in and gives him a job. In no time the narrator discovers that his cousin's appliance business is a front for much more dangerous operations, which he is ultimately recruited into.
One of the things I found most touching about this story was the way the young men of the village, trying to make sense of the invasion, cling to the belief that sooner or later the West will understand the beauty of their culture and leave them alone. They cannot believe that technology and capitalism are any match for their long history of art, music, mathematics, and creativity. They say, “when the West realizes how much beauty we have, they will leave us alone.”
The ending of this book is just shattering. I won't ruin it for other readers but let me say that the mission he eventually undertakes is so horrible and the reason for his ultimate decision is so beautiful it just tore at my heart. I will not forget this book for a very long time.
Even though I have read a book for Afghanistan I think I'm going to read another one, A Thousand Splendid Suns, which I have been wanting to read for awhile. It is going to take an incredible book to live up to that last one. The adventure continues.