Tales from the oral tradition of Afghanistan, a land where “memories are not made of air and light and colour [but]...of iron and stone”; in this collection, the stories vary in tone from the homely to the harrowing.
The artistic process behind this collection is uncommon, for Mazari, an immigrant to Melbourne, tells his stories to Australian author Hillman, who reshapes them and then runs them by Mazari again to see whether he has captured the authenticity of his original voice. While the stories are separate, they’re concatenated in that characters recur from story to story, so while one might be a major player in one tale, he might be only alluded to in a subsequent narrative. Mazari focuses on one specific area of Afghanistan here: the relatively remote mountainous area of the Hazarajat. There we meet the Hazara, who, according to Mazari, are a “mystery people, but only to others,” and indeed, we do locate universal themes within the individual stories he tells. The title story is (no pun intended) sweet, for it concerns the passing of a long tradition of beekeeping and honey-gathering from one generation to another. Among the more haunting tales are “The Life of Abdul Khaliq” and “The Death of Abdul Khaliq.” For reasons that become obvious, the title character of these stories becomes known as “the king-killer” for his assassination of Mohammad Nadir Shah, a monarch who’s been oppressing the Hazara. “The Snow Leopard” introduces us to Abraham, a London university professor who, in searching out the elusive snow leopard, finds much more than he expected.
Mazari and Hillman’s collaboration reveals the rich culture of a region largely unknown in the West.