A fearless author regards the Afghanis on their own terms.
In a Balkh village in northern Afghanistan that could not be found on the map, where the illiterate Turkoman women fashioned the most exquisite rugs in the world, Philadelphia-based journalist Badkhen (Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories, 2010, etc.) spent a year chronicling the hard lives of the inhabitant survivors. Her account of one family in Oqa, a dusty village miles from the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, is enormously detailed and moving—though mired, however, in frequently purple prose that clots her narrative rather than clarifies. The people of this ancient land hailed from nomadic ancestors, becoming mostly scavengers of calligonum (a plant) rather than farmers: from patriarch Baba Nazar to his son Amanullah, who yearned to travel and was not allowed to keep the family money due to his profligate ways, to his hardworking wife, Thawra, who squatted over the loom for months to create the gorgeous carpet that would fetch the family’s sole livelihood of a couple hundred dollars (later sold by dealers for thousands to the Westerners), to the famished children who were often afflicted with the “black cough” and addicted to opium from infancy. Rains were rare, trees nonexistent, and there was no longer even a mullah in the village mosque. Yet these timeless clans who had endured the traversing armies of Alexander the Great and Tamerlane, the British and the Soviets, the Taliban and the Americans, continued to adhere to ancient rituals such as buying skeins of yarn in the bazaar, celebrating the weddings of their daughters and observing the fast of Ramadan.
A dense, intimate portrayal of an ancient people, peppered with the author’s own charming sketches.