This fusion of memoir and international reportage paints a disturbing picture of present-day Afghanistan as a tribal narco-state.
Journalist Nawa fled the country with her family as a young girl during the Soviet invasion, and only returned in 2000 as an American citizen working for a Pakistani think tank as an editor and journalist. She then spent several years traveling through the country and reporting on its transformations. Nawa is especially curious about the effects of increased opiate production on Afghan women, and her conclusions are grim: “...the Afghan drug trade provided funding for terrorists and for the Taliban... and [was] strengthening corrupt Afghan government officials whom the United States supported.” The author portrays a disordered, cruel society in which a proud culture of intricate traditions has been repeatedly battered by historical conflicts--most recently, the disastrous American response to the Taliban and the explosion of narcotics culture. Afghan social structures seem built around the subjugation of women, and shady drug lords routinely demand marriage to debtors’ female children as payment for opium debts, a circumstance equated with virtual slavery. Nawa met one such girl, a spirited and angry 12-year-old named Darya. The author traveled throughout the country in an attempt to understand the surreal circumstances contributing to Darya’s plight, talking to rural farmers, anti-narcotics agents and dealers. Essentially, despite brutal risks, the rural poor are drawn to the opium industry due to tribal pressures and for want of better options. Nawa ably captures the tragic complexity of Afghan society and the sheer difficulty of life there. Although the dialogue sometimes feels reconstructed or artificial, her assured narrative clearly stems from in-depth reporting in a risk-laden environment.
Despite Nawa’s forceful optimism, the author delivers a troubling indictment of the drug and anti-terror wars visited upon Afghanistan, and of certain reactionary aspects of Afghan culture.