Freedom from the Forbidden

All things gender and Islam. No bigotry is allowed in this feminist territory. #DeathToPatriarchy

Novels Set in Afghanistan and Pashtun-majority Areas in Pakistan

I’m pasting the below from the old blog (you may click for the comments – some interesting stuff).
I have not read some of these books and would love any and all opinions on them.

P.S. I’d like for Pukhtuns/Afghans to write novels set in the Fatherland, folks. Seriously, white folks won’t tire of writing about us… I mean, look at the following list. Look at the orientalist attitudes so prevalent in their mindset.

I’ve been looking for novels that take place in Pashtun-majority spaces, like Afghanistan and Pashtunkhwa, or otherwise novels about/with Pashtuns as the main characters. I’m hesitant to include or read any books written by westerners about Afghanistan because I am sick of the romanticization of Afghanistan and all things Afghans, but I recognize that there are a few good, honest reads out there. I’ll include a couple of them below. The following have been recommended to me. Some of them, however, like The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns — and enjoyed them. I did not like And the Mountains Echoed (here’s why). Dying to get my hands on In My Father’s Country, too – heard great things about it.

Feel free to recommend others as well or otherwise share your thoughts on the following if you’re familiar with them.

 A Bed of Red Flowers: In Search of My Afghanistan, Nilofer Pazira (This is not fiction; it’s a memoir of the author’s life growing up in Afghanistan and being forced to grow faster than a child should have to, with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and her family’s trials and tribulations afterwards.)

And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini

This book is supposed to be a powerful story of friendship, injustice, love and betrayal — like all the other books by Hosseini and, well, most everyone else writing about “easterners” — about how lives can be changed in a mere moment in history (because of the stupidity and greed for power of men – don’t you just hate patriarchy? Imagine if women dominated the world instead of men… #inshaAllah) As I mentioned above, I didn’t like this story at all. It was disappointing. There were moments throughout that were so moving and beautiful and precious – and then there was the end that just angered the hell out of me. But you should read it anyway – because ❤ Afghanistan ❤ Besides, here’s what The New York Times has to say about it:

“Mountains” spans several generations and moves back and forth between Afghanistan and the West. (Mr. Hosseini says the title was inspired by William Blake’s poem “Nurse’s Song: Innocence,” which refers to hills echoing with the sound of children’s voices.) It grapples with many of the same themes that crisscross his early novels: the relationship between parents and children, and the ways the past can haunt the present. And it shares a similar penchant for mapping terrain midway between the boldly colored world of fable and the more shadowy, shaded world of realism.

The stuff is good – the story is not, is all.

A God in Every Stone: A Novel, Kamila Shamsie (Pasting from “A powerful story of friendship, injustice, love and betrayal, A God in Every Stone carries you across the globe, into the heart of empires fallen and conquered, reminding us that we all have our place in the chaos of history and that so much of what is lost will not be forgotten.”)

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Housseini (Okay, don’t get me started about this book. Splendid Suns is the best novel EVER.)

Born Under a Million Shadows: A Novel, by Andrea Busfield.

The book is written by a non-Afghan … from the perspective of a little Afghan boy. I’m still reluctant to read it. In the story, there is a “western woman” who appears to be playing the role of a savior, and so a huge hell-no to this book. I may be wrong… but I’m not missing out.

Caravans: A Novel of Afghanistan, James A. Michener. This novel was written in 1963, way back when hardly anyone knew the country existed (they now only equate it with war, though, so not much has changed except that it’s demonized and people shudder when they hear its name. Why’s ignorance so common?). A review of the book is available online here. Judging from this review alone, I’m not interested in reading it. Because white people are the main characters.

Dancing In Terror, by Shahi Sadat.
Recommended by someone on Twitter

Earth and Ashes, by Atiq Rahimi
Recommended by a commenter below.

Eighteen Years in the Khyber: 1879-1898, by Robert Warburton.
Recommended by a friend.  But Amazon says this is the narratives of a “good colonel” – so I’m not interested.

The Far Pavilions, Kay Hamilton. A friend on Twitter tells me this is a powerful novel.

The Horsemen, by Joseph Kessel.
Recommended by a commenter below.

In My Father’s Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate, Saima Wahab (The author’s memoir of her father’s murder by the Russians, her leaving the country and immigrating to the U.S., settling in the U.S., and then returning to Afghanistan.)

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (This is a Hosseini novel so, again, don’t get me started on it. It made me cry. But not as much as Splendid Suns did.)

My Forbidden Face, Latifa (The author’s personal account of her life growing up under the Taliban and having to abandon her dreams and interests.)

The Pathans: A Sketch, Ghani Khan (Ghani Khan is my personal favorite person in the history of humanity. This book of his is a humorous, honest, and short reflection on Pukhtun society, culture, history, etc. It’s something wroth reading and is guaranteed to bring a smile to the reader’s face. You’ve probably heard that quote that Pukhtuns are always citing from Ghani – “We love music but hate the musician.” Yeah, it’s true and it’s from this book.)

The Patience Stone, by Atiq Rahimi
Recommended by a commenter below.

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell: A Novel, by Nadia Hashimi.
Recommended by someone on Twitter.

The Secret Sky: A Novel of Forbidden Love in Afghanistan, by Atia Abawi
Recommended by someone on Twitter

 The Sewing Circles of Herat: A Personal Voyage Through Afghanistan, Christina Lamb (Non-fiction but it sounds compelling enough. Pasting from “Returning to Afghanistan after the attacks on the World Trade Center to report for Britain’s Sunday Telegraph, Lamb discovered the people no one else had written about: the abandoned victims of almost a quarter century of war. Among them, the brave women writers of Herat who risked their lives to carry on a literary tradition under the guise of sewing circles; the princess whose palace was surrounded by tanks on the eve of her wedding; the artist who painted out all the people in his works to prevent them from being destroyed by the Taliban; and Khalil Ahmed Hassani, a former Taliban torturer who admitted to breaking the spines of men and then making them stand on their heads.”

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, Fatima Bhutto (This is a novel written by the niece of Pakistan’s former and now-deceased female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. I haven’t read the book but pasting about it from Goodreads: “The Shadow of the Crescent Moon chronicles the lives of five young people trying to live and love in a world on fire. Individuals are pushed to make terrible choices. And, as the events of this single morning unfold, one woman is at the centre of it all.”)

Shooting Kabul (The Kabul Chronicles), NH Senzai. The story of little Fadi, his family’s migration to the U.S. and his guilt over accidentally letting his little sister’s hand go in a crowd back in Afghanistan – and then spending the rest of his life searching for her, specifically through his passion for photography.

The Storyteller’s Daughter: One Woman’s Return to Her Lost Homeland, Saira Shah (The author’s memoir of her family’s exile and her return to Afghanistan.)

The Swallows of Kabul, Yasmina Khadra (a pen name) (A novel set in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s time. Pasting from Bookbrowse: “Set in Kabul under the rule of the Taliban, this extraordinary novel takes readers into the lives of two couples: Mohsen, who comes from a family of wealthy shopkeepers whom the Taliban has destroyed; Zunaira, his wife, exceedingly beautiful, who was once a brilliant teacher and is now no longer allowed to leave her home without an escort or covering her face. Intersecting their world is Atiq, a prison keeper, a man who has sincerely adopted the Taliban ideology and struggles to keep his faith, and his wife, Musarrat, who once rescued Atiq and is now dying of sickness and despair.  Desperate, exhausted Mohsen wanders through Kabul when he is surrounded by a crowd about to stone an adulterous woman. Numbed by the hysterical atmosphere and drawn into their rage, he too throws stones at the face of the condemned woman buried up to her waist. With this gesture the lives of all four protagonists move toward their destinies.  The Swallows of Kabul is a dazzling novel written with compassion and exquisite detail by one of the most lucid writers 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.”)

The Taliban Cricket Club: A Novel, by Timeri Murari
Mentioned in the comments below – but the commenter doesn’t recommend!

 The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmad (A novel set in FATA, the “tribal” areas of Pakistan neighboring Afghanistan. Pasting from Goodreads: “The Wandering Falcon begins with a young couple, refugees from their tribe, who have traveled to the middle of nowhere to escape the cruel punishments meted upon those who transgress the boundaries of marriage and family. Their son, Tor Baz, descended from both chiefs and outlaws, becomes “The Wandering Falcon,” a character who travels throughout the tribes, over the mountains and the plains, in the towns and tents that comprise the homes of the tribal people. The media today speak about this unimaginably remote region, a geopolitical hotbed of conspiracies, drone attacks, and conflict—now, told in the rich, dramatic tones of a master storyteller, this stunning, honor-bound culture is revealed from the inside. Jamil Ahmad has written an unforgettable portrait of a world of custom and compassion, of love and cruelty, of hardship and survival, a place fragile, unknown, and unforgiving.”)

The Wasted Vigil, by Nadeem Aslam
Mentioned by a commenter below.

 That’s all I’ve got at the moment.

Again, I’m seeking specifically fiction work. I’ll add more to the list as I come across them, and I’ll also try to add short summaries of each as I read them.

Categories: Afghans, beauty, Books, Death to patriarchy, Pashtuns

Tags: , , ,

15 replies

  1. Just my white-people-opinion, but I liked Atiq Rahimi (I mean ‘Earth and Ashes’ and ‘The Patience Stone’, I haven’t read ‘A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear’ yet).


  2. I loved The Wandering Falcon (and yes, the Thousand Splendid Suns too), but The Swallows of Kabul is a bit disappointing. It sounded to me more like a pile of clichés than anything … But I read it a long time ago, maybe I should try again ? And maybe the translation in English is better (I read it in the original language, french, and the style is not great).
    I remember having read “The Wasted Vigil” by Nadeem Aslam too, it’s also set in Afghanistan but it bored me no end (and there too, lots of clichés). And the story revolves around way too many white characters too really have the feeling you’re reading something about Afghanistan.
    And I suppose I should mention “The Taliban Cricket Club” by Timeri N. Murari, not a white author but he clearly misses the whole thing, you really don’t have to read it 😉


    • I haven’t yet read The Wandering Falcon yet! God, I need to step up my game with reading novels… the last fiction thing I read was “Love in the Time of Cholera” – and “A Hundred Years of Solitude” is taking me *forever* to read! Why do authors start off with such boring beginnings?!

      Thank you for the other books! I’ve just included them to the list!


  3. The Horsemen by Joseph Kessel.

    There is a movie too on this novel, by the same name. The legendary Omar Sharif (who died yesterday) played the lead role in it.


  4. Beautiful post.
    I also find afghanistan and its culture beautiful. I wish to visit it.
    And yeahhhh I love Khaled hosseini and his books.
    I also find ‘ And the mountains echoed’ a bit disappointing but i still like it 😛
    A thousand splendid suns is wonderful… The kite runner is also wonderful..
    I am not an avid novel reader…. so my review is not reliable.

    I also read in one of your posts that how people think Khaled is depecting pashtuns as gays and bad people. Why cant they see good people in the novels who are pashtun too.

    And there was a gay character in And the mountains echoed..that rich guy ( i dont remember his name) whose wife leaves her ultimately. That guy was in love with his male servant who was maternal uncle of Pari..
    I liked that character…

    And yeah i have read about bachabazi in kandahar….


    • Thank you for your comment, Mohammad Akram!
      Just a tiny but important point: Bachcha bazi isn’t the same as homosexuality. Homosexuality is a sexual orientation in which an individual (human, animal, etc.) is sexually and otherwise attracted to someone of the same gender and/or sex; there’s nothing criminal about homosexuality, or at least there shouldn’t be any. Bachcha bazi, however, is older men’s criminal act of sexually abusing and molesting little boys (what the word “bachcha” refers to in the name), and is called pederasty in English, was commonly practiced among the Greeks historically and is still practiced in many parts of the world (Muslim and non-Muslim) as a mark of prestige for the men who engage in it. It’s pedophilia (the root word “ped” = kids/children). It’s abuse.

      So please don’t conflate the two (homosexuality and pederasty/pedophilia/bachcha bazi).


  5. Oh I know the difference 😀 … Thanks for telling it though.


  6. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis.

    Angelina Jolie Pitt to Executive Produce Animated Film ‘The Breadwinner’


  7. I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns, and I was very moved that a man had written so well about women. The Kite Runner was very good- but I felt it was a bit contrived. And the Mountains Echoed made so little impression on me, I can’t remember it at all.


  8. Hi, I would like to add my own newly published novel to the list 🙂
    “The River Village” It is set in Afghanistan depicting Afghan’s struggles during the Soviet invasion 1980s.


    • Thanks, Wali! I’ll add it to the list.


    • Hello, I read a book about 10 years ago. The Novel was set in Soviet Occupied Afghanistan. The hero is a leader of the local mujahedin. His wife was a Russian Teacher in the village that was attacked by the soviets and their allies. The thing i remember from the novel was when the Protagonist was caught, the punishment was broken foot. He could not walk and had to be carried by his brothers. if you know the novel please tell me the name.




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