Tuesday, August 28, 2007

books about Afghanistan

As you probably all know by now, I can't read enough about Afghanistan. I'm not going to waste space here trying to explain why I'm interested, but basically I do try to get my hands on any books (fiction or nonfiction) that help me better understand Afghanistan and modern Islam (two distinct concepts here--I do know that much).

Recently, I hit upon another venue for information when I was literally surfing blogspot blogs. I happened upon Home in Kabul, a blog kept by an Afghan American woman who has moved [back] to Kabul. Home in Kabul also has a great link list of other blogs to look at if you're interested in Afghanistan or in Islam. All the day-to-day internet reads offer some very different material from what American publishing companies tend to buy into and distribute over here.

Yesterday, Home in Kabul posted that she agrees with other Afghan reviewers that BOOKSELLER OF KABUL is exploitative and misrepresentative. She also posted this link, from the blog Afghanistanica, and this review of A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS from a Pakistani blog called Daily Times.

The question they both ask is interesting, especially for people like me, who have zero understanding of Afghanistan outside of what filters into the American commercial literary market (sadness). That question is what have these portrayals of the brutalities suffered by Afghan women damaged the American/"Western" perception of the entire culture? Are American readers inclined to cluck their tongues and write off the the country as completely alien because their main understanding is that the whole country is "inherently misogynistic"?

And then... I'll just paste from the Daily Times review here:

In Gayatri Spivak’s now oft-quoted words, Hosseini’s tale (especially in light of the Allied invasion of Afghanistan) can quite literally be construed as yet another instance of “white men saving brown women from brown men.”

Yet allowing for such critiques leads us to an even more untenable thesis. Should the grim reality of abuse be abridged and disguised simply because it promotes negative stereotypes? Is the suffering of Afghan women not worthy of representation in literature because it can be appropriated for political agendas?”

Anyway. I'm always looking for new things to read and new ways to educate myself. If anyone has any reading material to suggest, please do...


Anonymous said...

The US and allied forces' invasion of Afghanistan was to oust the Taliban government that supported Osama Bin Laden -- not to save brown women from brown men. For goodness sake, OBL and his cohorts -- all of whom were provided sanctuary and terrorist training camps in Afghanistan -- slaughtered 3,000+ Americans on 9/11. Somalia? The USS Cole? The embassy bombings in Africa? How many thousand Afghanis who didn't comply with the Taliban's dictums? How many women brought to stadiums to be stoned in honor killings?

Someone who attempts to misplace blame and motivation onto the US -- saving brown women from brown men -- is someone with a political agenda bent on rewriting history.

I would suggest reading Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell, One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick, and if you're interested in learning more about the extreme custom of honor killings, there's the Iranian based story The Stoning of Soraya M. and grab a tissue when you listen to NPR's Anne Garrels: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5043032


moonrat said...

Hey--thanks for the reading list. All duly noted.

The point is not a political one, or what is the US doing in Afghanistan--I make no pretensions at having any knowledge of politics whatsoever. The point is that the general American understanding of Aghanistan, its culture, and its people is derived largely from popular fiction and memoir (and representation in other pop culture venues). Those venues tend to focus on the stories of abuse.

I think it's a particularly difficult question because what makes the topic of Afghanistan popular is the sensationalism linked to some of the inhuman suffering caused by the Taliban. It's possible that the average American reader isn't interested in a greater truth.

homeinkabul said...

don't know why i didn't comment on this earlier. sorry about that.

Read Kabul by M.E. Hirsch (lurve it)
and Tamim Ansary's memoir west of kabul east of new york

moonrat said...

never too late ;) thanks!