"AN AFGHANISTAN PICTURE SHOW: Or, How I Saved the World" by William T. Vollmann


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Just why a respected and talented young novelist like Vollman (Fathers and Crows, reviewed above, etc.) would want to publish dated jottings on a 1982 sojourn around and, briefly, in war-torn Afghanistan is anyone's guess. Whatever the reason, there's not much to commend in this digressive log, whose title alludes to a slide presentation the author mounted upon his return to northern California. In seemingly random fashion, Vollman recalls a journey taken to comprehend what had happened to the keystone Asian republic in the wake of its 1979 invasion by Soviet forces. Referring to himself as ""the Young Man"" throughout, the author provides a quasi-picaresque narrative of his travels in Pakistan and his short thrust with a mujihadeen band into Afghanistan itself. Vollman's protagonist is forever obliged to confront his own inadequacies following brief encounters with refugees, would-be warriors, corrupt bureaucrats, overworked officials, retired military men, out-of-office pols, and good-hearted citizens who go out of their way to make him feel welcome in their country. By the author's account, those whom the Young Man met in his travels invariably invested him with preternatural powers, owing to his American heritage. Whether Vollman intended to document the futility of trying to help others, or some other truth, is unclear. For all their purposeful irony, though, his short-take recollections add little to our understanding of a tragic chapter in world history.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1992
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"