A writer who has focused on violence against women travels to Afghanistan after the American-led invasion and finds plenty to write about.
Shaken by the Sept. 11 attacks and the “strut and bluster” of America’s president, New Yorker Jones (Next Time, She’ll Be Dead, 1994) seeks to do something about it. In 2002, she moves to Kabul, volunteers at a small non-profit dedicated to assisting the country’s thousands of war widows and also begins to teach English to local educators. She finds a country traumatized from years of war and violence, where women, who struggle under an oppressive patriarchy, are locked in prison for “crimes” such as being forced into prostitution by their husbands. Jones visits others who have been hospitalized after setting themselves on fire out of shame because they did not bleed after having sex on their wedding nights. Jones writes angrily of the divide between the upbeat reports Americans see on the news and receive from political leaders, and the harsh reality of life in Afghanistan. She details the blunders of the well-funded but often misguided international community, which throws millions of dollars at projects that have little impact on the daily lives of the country’s people. From the Afghan perspective, Jones writes, foreign aid workers live like kings, riding around in large SUVs and grabbing the city’s best housing. In the meantime, Afghanistan has reestablished itself as the world’s leading opium supplier, with profits from the trade flowing to warlords and politicians alike. The story is most captivating when Jones steps outside her own anger and simply describes the women she meets in the course of her work; the narrative occasionally bogs down when she attempts to pack in centuries of Afghanistan’s complicated history.
A passionate—often grim—account of a country and a people trying to find peace after decades of war.