If a psychoanalyst said to you in a word association test, 'Afghanistan', the word you'd fire back would probably be, 'War'. But Afghanistan is first and foremost a country of poetry, family, and faith. Its history is a tapestry far richer than we often care to remember, as we've found in these four books.
Sophie Jonathan, Assistant Editor
Any piece about books set in Afghanistan has to include Khaled Hosseini's gorgeous The Kite Runner. Its portrait of childhood friendships and betrayals is so universal but the Afghanistan that the main character Amir returns to as an adult is a barely recognisable war-torn landscape. It is hard to imagine how it must feel to return to a place of happy childhood to see it so changed, but Hosseini does it brilliantly. The perfectly realised Afghan setting of the novel also plays host to an incredibly thrilling and moving narrative but I wouldn't dare spoil the ending.
Kris Doyle, Editor
In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman begins with a man, Zafar, knocking on the door of an old friend. He disappeared in mysterious circumstances some years ago, and has returned to make a confession. Now, I don’t want to spoil the book for you, so I won’t reveal any more. What I will tell you is that Zafar’s confession concerns events that took place in Kabul after the war of 2001. This ambitious contemporary novel is truly global in scope, moving easily across continents and decades, but it’s the question of what happened in Kabul that proves most haunting. The book is out in May so keep an eye out for it!
Kate Harvey, Editorial Director
The Places In Between is Rory Stewart’s mesmerizing account of his walk – alone, unsupported, and in the dead of winter – from Herat to Kabul. Relying on the kindness of strangers to sustain him, and offering his experiences and insights with clarity and humility, his account is a classic of travel writing. Stewart goes deep into the culture and history of Afghanistan and his journey is as intellectually rigorous and emotionally powerful as it is physically arduous. This is a book in conversation with Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana, and Jason Elliot’s An Unexpected Light.
Rosanna Boscawen, picador.com editor
When I first read A Fort of Nine Towers by Qais Akbar Omar this time last year it was all I could think about. It's brutal, it moved me to tears on countless occasions, and it made me feel more human than anything else I've ever read. There's an overwhelming nostalgia for the days Qais spent in his grandfather's garden with his cousins, blossom all around them and the words of the great poets in the air. For all of this to be lost and subsumed by war is endlessly saddening but what really got me was the fact that in spite of the violence, which is merciless and often targeted at individuals, Qais and his family keep moving. They travel around the country and towards its borders, circling back to the fort of nine towers. And for all their reminiscing, the way they confront their terrifying present is inspiring.
Have you read another book on Afghanistan that you think should be included on this list? Let us know!