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May 2011

Writing from Afghanistan

Image: Aman Mojadidi, Jihadi Gangster Parliamentary Campaign Poster, c-print on dibond, 2010 (detail)

Guest Editor Anders Widmark,

This month we present writing from Afghanistan. Afghanistan is known to most English-language readers in a strictly political context, and much of what is said and written about Afghanistan in the West comes from an outside perspective. Yet we can best appreciate this country and culture through the eyes of its writers. We hope that the writing in this issue, with its focus on individual lives both on and off the battlefield, will provide a more nuanced view from which to consider this country and its culture.

This collection of writing translated from Dari and Pashto evokes the current situation with clarity and immediacy.  Mohammad Hussain Mohammadi’s wrenching "Dasht-e Leili" tells the story of the infamous massacre from the viewpoints of soldiers on both sides of the battle. Zalmay Babakoh’s “Idol’s Dust” turns the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas  into sly revenge. Asef Soltanzadah's "To Arrive" follows an elderly Afghan on a disorienting, chaotic journey to reunite with his émigré son in Denmark.  Pir Mohammad Karwan’s crazed paranoic heads for the hills, while Mahmud Marhun’s martyr finds himself in an unexpected place.  Parvin Faiz  Zadah Malal and Khan Mohammed Sind portray the harsh poverty of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. And the poets Zahra Hosseinzadeh, Qanbar Ali Tabesh, and Aman Mirzai speak of life among Afghan exiles in Iran. We thank guest editor Anders Widmark for his selections, translations, and contextual introduction.

The View from Within: An Introduction to New Afghan Literature

Much of what is said and written about Afghanistan in the West today is still tainted by an outside perspective on the situation

The Idol’s Dust

The great Buddha had broken to pieces and disintegrated into millions of smaller Buddhas.


Dasht-e Leili

The man next to me is licking the sweat on my arm.

The Man Who Went into the Hills

I will destroy my television and smash my radio as well.


Embraced by the Grave

You have never been a mujahid.

To Arrive

Where did you board the wrong airplane? Tehran? Istanbul? Frankfurt?


I have told you several times to throw that to the dogs, not to give it to the Kabulis.

The Spectacle

Sarwar was shot through the air like a glittering bird.

Take a Number on Saturdays

Pull the moon or a star out of her sleeve.


The Destiny of a Leaf

A man has the destiny of a leaf.


The Sewing Machine

Mother is the needle's thread.



Book Reviews

Marcelo Figueras’s “Kamchatka”

Reviewed by Anderson Tepper

Figueras chooses to capture the drumbeat of history in the small, offbeat details of a boy’s life.

Ludvik Vaculik’s “The Guinea Pigs”

Reviewed by Shaun Randol

Ludvík Vaculík’s novel The Guinea Pigs is charming and unsettling at the same time.

David Albahari’s “Leeches”

Reviewed by Nina Herzog

As one clue unravels into another, flirtations with chaos and order form the backdrop for a reflection on post-war Serbia and anti-Semitism.

Georges Perec’s “The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise

Reviewed by Laird Hunt

The English-language Perec enjoys a certain sartorial charm—an ink-and-paper analog of the author’s legendary formal brio.

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