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BN Editor
Bill_T
Posts: 366
Registered: ‎03-20-2007
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Recommended Reading

[ Edited ]
Untitled Khaled Hosseini's Debut

The Kite Runner
This dazzling debut is a coming-of-age story that finds both suffering and tenderness in the tumultuous decades of recent Afghan history. Following young Amir through a life that witnesses the end of a monarchy, the Soviet invasion and defeat, and the rise of the Taliban, Khaled Hosseini balances an epic-scale chronicle of a national tragedy with a story of friendship and family that crosses all borders.

Additional Recommended Reading

The Story of My Life
Farah Ahmedi
Farah Ahmedi is born into the world just as the war between the mujahideen and the Soviets reaches its peak in Afghanistan. Bombs are falling all over her country, and her native Kabul is swelling with hundreds of thousands of people looking for homes and jobs. When Farah steps on a land mine on her way to school, her world becomes much smaller than the dreams and hopes in her heart. She begins to learn -- slowly -- that ordinary people, often strangers, have immense power to save lives and restore hope.

Reading Lolita in Tehran
Azar Nafisi
Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi’s living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. Nafisi's memoir is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.

The Swallows of Kabul
Yasmina Khadra
Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra has generated international acclaim for his novel about two Afghani couples' lives under the Taliban. The Ramats and the Shaukats come from very different backgrounds, but both pairs confront tragic choices as the shadow of the theocracy falls across their lives. The Swallows of Kabul is a dazzling novel about the mentality of Islamic fundamentalists and the complexities of the Muslim world. Yasmina Khadra brings readers into the hot, dusty streets of Kabul and offers them an unflinching but compassionate insight into a society that violence and hypocrisy have brought to the edge of despair.

Brick Lane
Monica Ali
Ali's first novel is the deeply moving story of Nazneen, born in a Bangladeshi village and transported to London at age eighteen to enter into an arranged marriage. For years, Nazneen keeps house, cares for her husband, and bears children, just as a girl from the village is supposed to do. But gradually she is transformed by her experience, and begins to question whether fate controls her or whether she has a hand in her own destiny. Nazneen's daughters chafe against their father's traditions and pride, and to her own amazement, Nazneen falls in love with a young man in the community. While Nazneen journeys along her path of self-realization, her sister, Hasina, rushes headlong at her life, first making a "love marriage," then fleeing her violent husband. Woven through the novel, Hasina's letters from Dhaka recount a world of overwhelming adversity. Shaped, yet not bound, by their landscapes and memories, both sisters struggle to dream -- and live -- beyond the rules prescribed for them.

Message Edited by Barbara on 08-15-2007 09:55 AM
Inspired Wordsmith
Sunltcloud
Posts: 933
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Recommended Reading

I have read three other interesting accounts of Afghanistan recently. Two from Westerners and one from a transplanted Afghani. All three are nonfiction.

"The Places in Between" by Rory Stewart. Stewart walked across Afghanistan in 2002 "surviving by his wits, his knowledge of Persian dialects and Muslim customs, and the kindness of strangers."

"The Bookseller of Kabul" by Asne Seierstad, a journalist who lived with a bookseller and his family in Afghanistan for several months.

"West of Kabul, East of New York," by Tamim Ansary. This is an excerpt from the book jacket: "And while I stood contemplating the horizon, terrorists attacked new York, and I wrote a little e-mail; and some of the current bolting between East and West passed through the infinitesimal circuit of my life. I spoke for Afghanistan with my American voice, and while I was writing, my two selves were fused."
Frequent Contributor
viva2
Posts: 35
Registered: ‎08-05-2007
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Re: Recommended Reading

Thank you for the book list.

We have already read "Kite Runner" and "Reading Lolita in Tehran" in our land-based B&N book club and had the highest praise for both. Kite Runner is a well plotted and absorbing story and, as such, moves along much as Thousand Suns.

By contrast, "Reading Lolita in Tehran" is a memoir of a real woman educated abroad in America, who, with great bravery, continued to teach her best students in her home, at considerable risk to all. It contains a reading list in the back of the book. I re-read "Lolita" and F.Scott Fitzgerald's classic, before beginning "Reading Lolita in Tehran," just to get the flavor of the experiences of the women in Tehran reading books that many American women have yet to open. Very impressive, seeing the resilience and spirit of these young women, to say nothing of their hunger for reading "forbidden" good books. It is a slower read but is an amazing memoir.

If the others on this list are anywhere close to being as good as the two I have already read, I will be very happy.
Inspired Wordsmith
Sunltcloud
Posts: 933
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: "The Places In Between" by rory Stewart

Whenever I don’t understand concepts discussed/used in a novel, I go to maps, political and cultural articles, travel journals, and biographies. “The Places in Between” by Rory Stewart has given me a lot of insight into the cultural isolation of Afghan villages. It has also shown me the inept attempts by foreigners to bring about change. Though Stewart is a European, well, maybe because Stewart is a European, I learned quite a bit about the mix of continuous liberation and oppression – often in one and the same force - that has shaped the face of Afghanistan. It reminds me of the blunders of colonization in India, the plight of Kashmir, the divisions of the African continent. And again I realize that I have to read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” as the story of individuals, as the fictionalized account of two strong women spilling from the author’s thoughts, as one heart-breaking yet hopeful incident in a confused, mismanaged, damaged, beautiful country.

I try very hard to honor each culture rather than criticize its shortcomings. After all, there are many shortcomings in my own culture; there are many concepts that are foreign to others. And my own behaviour contains much for others to criticize.

Here are three excerpts from Stewart's book; they deal with confusion, destruction, and mismanagement.

Page 62 sums up the first day of walking:

….The abrupt episodes and half-understood conversations already suggested a society that was an unpredictable composite of etiquette, humor, and extreme brutality. I dozed off, thinking of the stubby shadow of Abdul Haq’s Kalashnikov: a weapon designed by Russians, made by Iranians, and now used by Afghans on the American side.

Page 158 speaks of the involvement of other nations in the destruction:

The Turquoise Mountain was only the most dramatic and most recent victim of a general destruction of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. The demand for these historic objects and the money for the excavations came from dealers and collectors predominantly in Japan, Britain, and the United States. A month after I left the village, items from Jam – described as Seljuk or Persian to conceal their Afghan origin – were being offered on the London art market.
Antiquity looting is an ancient and highly controversial problem and because of the money involved, it is almost impossible to stop.
….The local villagers were earning only a dollar or two a day digging and could have been employed by an archaeological team to work with an official excavation, rather than against it.

Page 246 says much about the new “liberators.”

Most of the policy makers knew next to nothing about the villages where 90 percent of the Afghan population lived. They came from postmodern, secular, globalized states with liberal traditions in law and government. It was natural for them to initiate projects on urban design, women’s rights, and fiber-optic cable networks: to talk about transparent, clean, and accountable processes, tolerance, and civil society; and to speak of a people “who desire peace at any cost and understand the need for a centralized multi-ethnic government.”

And because I loved Stewart’s travel bio, I would like to add his dedication:

This book is dedicated to the people of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nepal, who showed me the way, fed me, protected me, housed me, and made this walk possible. They were not all saints, though some of them were. A number were greedy, idle, stupid, hypocritical, insensitive, mendacious, ignorant, and cruel. Some of them had robbed or killed others; many of them threatened me and begged from me. But never in my twenty-one months of travel did they attempt to kidnap or kill me. I was alone and a stranger, walking in very remote areas; I represented a culture that many of them hated, and I was carrying enough money to save or at least transform their lives. In more than five hundred village houses, I was indulged, fed, nursed, and protected by people poorer, hungrier, sicker, and more vulnerable than me. Almost every group I met – Sunni Kurds, Shia Hazara, Punjabi Christians, Sikhs, Brahmins of Kedarnath, Garhwal Dalits, and Newari Buddhists – gave me hospitality without any though of reward.
Distinguished Bibliophile
Nadine
Posts: 2,456
Registered: ‎10-30-2006
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Re: "The Places In Between" by rory Stewart

This really sounds like a very interesting book with much need insight into these very different cultures. Anyone who is interested you can get it from B&N and read an excerpt at well:

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?z=y&bnit=H&bnrefer=TOP&EAN=9780156031561...

Excerpt:

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbninquiry.asp?ean=9780156031561&displayonly=EXC&z=y&bn...
Contributor
lasharp24
Posts: 14
Registered: ‎01-02-2007
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Re: Recommended Reading

I recently read Ayaan Hirsi's memoir entitled "Infidel". She tells her story from her traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya, to her intellectual awakening and activism in the Netherlands, and her current life under armed guard in the West.

She was raised in a strict Muslim family. She survived civil war, female mutilation, brutal beatings, adolescence as a devout believer during the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and life in four troubled, unstable countries largely ruled by despots. In her early twenties, she escaped from a forced marriage and sought asylum in the Netherlands, where she earned a college degree in political science, and fought for the rights of Muslim immigrant women and the reform of Islam as a member of Parliament.

Her iron clad will and unbending determination not to conform to life as an Islamic woman was most admirable. She is a crusader for her people. But more important, she truly made me understand how these woman tolerate such abuse. And, the long and the short of the matter is, that they don't know anything else. They are kept in such a cocoon. They are so brianwashed and so oppressed that the only thread of hope they have is to serve so that they will be favored in the hereafter. It is truly something us Westerners truly cannot quite comprehend.
Moderator
Rachel-K
Posts: 1,495
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Recommended Reading

I love hearing these suggestions, and am starting to gather an in-person group to read novels and non-fiction from the Middle East. My only real fear for such a group, is that there is so little "lighter" reading to offer a breather now and then!

In the way of nonfiction, has anyone read Seymour Hersh or Thomas Friedman?
Contributor
lasharp24
Posts: 14
Registered: ‎01-02-2007
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Re: Recommended Reading

Have Beirut to Jerusalem but haven't conquered it yet.

Would love a recommendation of one of Seymour Hersh's books.
Frequent Contributor
Chaser
Posts: 27
Registered: ‎10-27-2006
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Re: "The Places In Between" by rory Stewart

Thank you for sharing this, Sunltcloud. I am very interested in reading the book for myself. I was immediately touched by his introduction/dedication.





Sunltcloud wrote:
Whenever I don’t understand concepts discussed/used in a novel, I go to maps, political and cultural articles, travel journals, and biographies. “The Places in Between” by Rory Stewart has given me a lot of insight into the cultural isolation of Afghan villages. It has also shown me the inept attempts by foreigners to bring about change. Though Stewart is a European, well, maybe because Stewart is a European, I learned quite a bit about the mix of continuous liberation and oppression – often in one and the same force - that has shaped the face of Afghanistan. It reminds me of the blunders of colonization in India, the plight of Kashmir, the divisions of the African continent. And again I realize that I have to read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” as the story of individuals, as the fictionalized account of two strong women spilling from the author’s thoughts, as one heart-breaking yet hopeful incident in a confused, mismanaged, damaged, beautiful country.

I try very hard to honor each culture rather than criticize its shortcomings. After all, there are many shortcomings in my own culture; there are many concepts that are foreign to others. And my own behaviour contains much for others to criticize.

Here are three excerpts from Stewart's book; they deal with confusion, destruction, and mismanagement.

Page 62 sums up the first day of walking:

….The abrupt episodes and half-understood conversations already suggested a society that was an unpredictable composite of etiquette, humor, and extreme brutality. I dozed off, thinking of the stubby shadow of Abdul Haq’s Kalashnikov: a weapon designed by Russians, made by Iranians, and now used by Afghans on the American side.

Page 158 speaks of the involvement of other nations in the destruction:

The Turquoise Mountain was only the most dramatic and most recent victim of a general destruction of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. The demand for these historic objects and the money for the excavations came from dealers and collectors predominantly in Japan, Britain, and the United States. A month after I left the village, items from Jam – described as Seljuk or Persian to conceal their Afghan origin – were being offered on the London art market.
Antiquity looting is an ancient and highly controversial problem and because of the money involved, it is almost impossible to stop.
….The local villagers were earning only a dollar or two a day digging and could have been employed by an archaeological team to work with an official excavation, rather than against it.

Page 246 says much about the new “liberators.”

Most of the policy makers knew next to nothing about the villages where 90 percent of the Afghan population lived. They came from postmodern, secular, globalized states with liberal traditions in law and government. It was natural for them to initiate projects on urban design, women’s rights, and fiber-optic cable networks: to talk about transparent, clean, and accountable processes, tolerance, and civil society; and to speak of a people “who desire peace at any cost and understand the need for a centralized multi-ethnic government.”

And because I loved Stewart’s travel bio, I would like to add his dedication:

This book is dedicated to the people of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nepal, who showed me the way, fed me, protected me, housed me, and made this walk possible. They were not all saints, though some of them were. A number were greedy, idle, stupid, hypocritical, insensitive, mendacious, ignorant, and cruel. Some of them had robbed or killed others; many of them threatened me and begged from me. But never in my twenty-one months of travel did they attempt to kidnap or kill me. I was alone and a stranger, walking in very remote areas; I represented a culture that many of them hated, and I was carrying enough money to save or at least transform their lives. In more than five hundred village houses, I was indulged, fed, nursed, and protected by people poorer, hungrier, sicker, and more vulnerable than me. Almost every group I met – Sunni Kurds, Shia Hazara, Punjabi Christians, Sikhs, Brahmins of Kedarnath, Garhwal Dalits, and Newari Buddhists – gave me hospitality without any though of reward.


Moderator
Rachel-K
Posts: 1,495
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: "The Places In Between" by rory Stewart

The Hersh is Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. It is a collection of his New Yorker articles, plus some unpublished ones. It's another hefty volume, but he's very readable--and you can flip and read in the volume to some extent, so it doesn't feel like a major undertaking!
Inspired Wordsmith
Sunltcloud
Posts: 933
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Recommended Reading

I just spent a couple of hours reading about Kite Runner the movie, and interviews with Khaled Hosseini, and details about Noor Agha the most famous kite maker in Kabul, who trained the two boys playing Amir and Hassan, and who made the kites for the set in China. Here are a few web sites if anybody is interested.

http://www.participate.net/thekiterunner

http://www.sdcitybeat.com/article.php?id=5877&atype=

http://www.kiterunner.org/

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/news/article/46405/film-could-help-afghan-kitemakers-fame-soar/
Inspired Scribe
IBIS
Posts: 1,735
Registered: ‎11-22-2006
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Re: Recommended Reading: The Swallow of Kabul

The Swallows of Kabul
Yasmina Khadra

I just finished reading this amazing book. I found it an excruciatingly painful reading experience.

The author (actually a man who uses a female pseudonym) writes in an unflinchingly graphic style that reminded me of Camus and his existential novels, "The Stranger" and "The Plague". He describes the various complex levels of the Muslim world (through the stories of 2 couples from very different social strata) during the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan. Unlike A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, which left open the possibility of hope and redemption for Laila and her family, this novel was filled with dread and hopelessness. All his main characters are driven to emotional desperation by the every day violence in Kabul.

Definitely a despairing look at the evil that men do to each other. I recommend this book to readers who have strong stomachs.
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
Inspired Scribe
IBIS
Posts: 1,735
Registered: ‎11-22-2006
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Re: "The Places In Between" by rory Stewart

[ Edited ]
Sunltcloud wrote:
... “The Places in Between” by Rory Stewart has given me a lot of insight into the cultural isolation of Afghan villages. It has also shown me the inept attempts by foreigners to bring about change. ...



I too am reading Rory Stewart's "The Places in Between". I agree that his trek from Herat (where Mariam was born) to Kabul (where A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS ends up) gave me a sharply focused view into the cultural isolation of the Afghani villages he visits.

I'm in the middle of the book, and am fascinated by (and admire) his non-judgmental approach to his hosts. Once I finish it, I will post my final thoughts on this book.

Edited by Admin. for formatting only.

Message Edited by Jessica on 10-26-2007 02:45 PM
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
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Rachel-K
Posts: 1,495
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: "The Places In Between" by rory Stewart

I've set this one on hold for myself. Thanks to all for these reviews! Has any read Stewart's Prince of the Marshes yet?
New User
englishculture
Posts: 4
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Recommended Reading: The Swallow of Kabul


IBIS wrote:
The Swallows of Kabul
Yasmina Khadra

I just finished reading this amazing book. I found it an excruciatingly painful reading experience.

The author (actually a man who uses a female pseudonym) writes in an unflinchingly graphic style that reminded me of Camus and his existential novels, "The Stranger" and "The Plague". He describes the various complex levels of the Muslim world (through the stories of 2 couples from very different social strata) during the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan. Unlike A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, which left open the possibility of hope and redemption for Laila and her family, this novel was filled with dread and hopelessness. All his main characters are driven to emotional desperation by the every day violence in Kabul.

Definitely a despairing look at the evil that men do to each other. I recommend this book to readers who have strong stomachs.




I absolutely agree. I read this book a year or so ago, and it's devastatingly beautiful, but also heartbreaking, and as you said, graphic. Definitely worth reading, though.
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