This article also appeared on the Huffington Post, January 23, 2013.
I’m on an email list where, at each year end, we exchange lists of books and movies we recommend to each other. This year, I decided to focus on books and films re Afghanistan. This is in no way a comprehensive list of books or films about the country, or even everything that I have read, but it’s a good start for anyone who wants to learn more. Here are my picks:
1) The Taliban by Ahmed Rashid: originally written in 2000, the author, a long time reporter on the country, updated the book in 2010. It’s timely and relevant and gives a good perspective on modern Afghan history and politics.
2) The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: a gripping account of a woman who made a living as a dressmaker under the Taliban, employing many other women. Since being in Kabul, I’ve met Kamila Saddiqi, who is indeed the dressmaker, and she continues to be a role model for women and positive change here. Here’s my review.
3) The Places In Between by Rory Stewart: it’s a quirky book by Stewart who, starting two weeks after the fall of the Taliban walked across the country. He then started Turquoise Mountain, a crafts workshop in Kabul, and is now back in the UK serving in the House of Commons. Here’s my review.
4) The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad: a riveting story of a woman who also came here two weeks after the fall of the Taliban and lived with – you guessed it – a well-known bookseller and his family. The bookseller and his family didn’t like the book, there has been litigation over it, which was just settled in the last year or so. Good portrait of the bookseller, who is a complex person, at the same time very literate and intellectual and yet runs his family with an iron fist. Here’s my review.
5) Farishta by Patricia McArdle: McArdle’s first novel is based loosely on her experiences serving in Afghanistan as a Foreign Service officer, and highlights the challenges faced by soldiers and civilians. Here’s my review on Huffington.
Also, there are two great short films on Afghanistan to look out for – Buzkashi Boys (nominated for an Oscar), about two Afghan boys and their dreams, www.buzkashiboys.com, and Mohtarama, a documentary about Afghan women, filmed in Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, www.facebook.com/Mohtaramah.
All worth your time.