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Albinati, Edoardo, trans. Curtis, Howard. Coming Back: Diary of a Mission in Afghanistan. London: Hesperus Press Ltd. 2003. Mr. Albinati spent four months of 2002 in Afghanistan helping the UNHCR with the repatriation of returning refugees. This book of personal observations chronicles the efforts he and others made to help with repatriation. The book presents a picture of Afghanistan just after the Taliban left and gives insights into the workings of aid efforts.
Ansary, Mir Tamin. East of New York, West of Kabul. London: Macmillan, 2003. Written by an Afghan exile of an American mother. The most interesting parts tell about growing up bicultural in Afghanistan. The chapter titled Unintended Consequences gives an Afghan perspective on American aid with the Helmand River Project during the 1950s.
Ansary, Mir Tamin and Yalda Asmatey. Snapshots: This Afghan American. San Francisco: Kajaki Press, 2008. This anthology, written by young Afghan-Americans is a first step towards bringing their little-known community, with its roots in Afghan history and culture, into wider view. This first generation of Afghan Americans has their own story to tell, both as part of and distinct from other refugee communities in America.
Ansary, Mir Tamin. The Widow’s Husband. San Rafael, CA: Numina Press, 2009. This engrossing story, which takes place during the British occupation of Kabul (1841) , gives insights into current rural Afghan society as well as giving readers a view of parallels to today’s current events.
—. Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes. New York, NY: Public Affairs, 2009. Mir Ansary’s lighthearted prose and lively style make enjoyable reading of this complex topic. Through this alternate perspective not only do we gain an understanding that is critical to our comprehension of current events, but we also gain insight on how events were interpreted by people of that time. Ansary’s evenhanded sympathy to all sides and his clear, concise depiction of events and their importance make this book invaluable to historical understanding.
Ayub, Awista. However Tall the Mountain: A Dream, Eight Girls and a Journalist. New York, NY: Hyperion Books, 2009. Ms. Ayub emigrated to the US when she was two. As an adult, she founded the Afghan Youth Sports Exchange and brought eight Afghan girls to the US for training. Her book chronicles the struggles of Awista as she takes on this endeavor, and the lives of the eight athletes in the first exchange group.
Badkhen, Anna. Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories. New York, NY: Free Press, 2010. Intrepid Russian journalist, Anna Badkhen describes shocking violence and hardship in war torn Afghanistan as well as stories of inspiring humanity and everyday life. Recipes for common Afghan dishes end each chapter.
Benard, Cheryl. Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women’s Resistance. NY: Broadway Books, 2002. This book provides an understanding of RAWA and its activities within the historical and social context of Afghanistan from the 70s through 2002. Stories and analysis give the reader a good feel for and deep respect for the organization and its brave members.
Bick, Barbara. Walking the Precipice: Witness to the Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. NY: Feminist Press at the City University of NY, 2009. Barbara traveled to Afghanistan three times, once in 1999 in the company of a pro-Soviet woman, in 2001 with feminist activists and again in 2003 to attend a conference for the Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women.
Brodsky, Anne. With All Our Strength: The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. NY: Routeledge, 2003. Anne Brodsky received in-depth access to RAWA and visited their operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan both before and after 9/11. This scholarly work is filled with stories of individual women and astute analysis of the organization and the political context in which it operates.
Chayes, Sarah. The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan after the Taliban. NY: Penguin Press, 2006. Sarah Chayes was an NPR reporter from 1997-2002. She quit her job with NPR reporting on Afghanistan to work for Afghans for a Civil Society and later to found her own NGO, Arghand Cooperative, there. This book explains the current situation in terms of her experience living in Kandahar as well as grounding that experience in a history of the area. This is one of the most important books I’ve read yet on Afghanistan for a cultural as well as political understanding of the country and general US foreign policy. Written as an inquiry into the assassination of the Kabul Chief of Police, it’s a fascinating read.
Coll, Steve. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. NY: Penguin Press, 2004. A very detailed account of the relationship among the CIA, the Mujahidin, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban between the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1979 and the assassination of Massood in Sept. 2001.
Elliot, Jason. An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan. NY: Picador, 1999. Elliot, a British journalist, fought with the Mujahidin against the Soviets and later returned to Afghanistan just before Taliban took over. The book is part adventure story, part history and part travelogue. It gives good insight into the Afghan mindset as well as an illuminates the physical and cultural geography of the regions through which he traveled.
Ewans, Martin. Afghanistan, a Short History of its People and Politics. NY: HarperCollins, 2002. The history of Afghanistan from its earliest times until after the fall of the Taliban is examined by Mr. Ewans, a former Head of Chancery in Kabul. He weighs the lessons of history to provide a frank look at Afghanistan’s prospects in the immense task of political and economic reconstruction.
Fitzgerald, Paul and Elizabeth Gould. Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2009. This comprehensive and probing analysis of American involvement in Afghanistan gives a fresh perspective in this very well documented volume. A must-read for those wanting to understand Afghanistan today.
Hafvenstein, Joel. Opium Season: A year on the Afghan Frontier. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2007. Mr. Hafvenstein tells of his year in Helmand Province directing Chemonics’ “Work for Hire” efforts to stem opium production. He soon found himself caught up in the deadly intrigues of drug lords and the Taliban. The book gives important insights into the character of Afghans in that part of the country and the internal workings of international development.
Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. NY: Riverhead Books, 2003. The book gives a vivid and engaging glimpse of the culture and customs of Afghan society in this story of betrayal and redemption. This very personal story of dealing with violence speaks to each of us, transcending time and culture.
—. A Thousand Splendid Suns. New York: NY: Riverhead Books, 2007. This book tells the stories of two women, each forced into an unwanted marriage by circumstances and their unlikely friendship. This book really gives one a feel for what life is like for many Afghan women.
Jones, Ann. Kabul in Winter: Life without Peace in Afghanistan. NY: Metropolitan, 2006. Ann came to Afghanistan in 2002 to train teachers and worked there until 2005. This book, while often angry, sheds light on the prison system and the school system along with its Afghan participants, while offering insights into how humanitarian aid works.
Joya, Malalai with O’Keefe, Derrick. A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice. New York, NY: Scribner, 2009. Ms. Joya is the woman who stood up in front of the Constitutional Loya Jerga to ask the world how Aghanistan can have a democracy when there are warlords and criminals in the government. The book tells the story of Malalai’s remarkable life and her efforts to promote women’s rights. Born in southwestern Afghanistan, she offers a perspective much different from that of Kabuli women.
Kargar, Zarguna. Dear Zari. London: Random House, 2011. Zari left Afghanistan in 1994 to live in London. In 2005 the BBC offered her a position with a new program they were developing, The Afghan Women’s Hour. She traveled back to Afghanistan and found local reporters to collect the stories of women from around the country. Those fascinating stories and her commentary fill this book.
King, Dedie, Inglese, Judith. (Ill.) I See the Sun in Afghanistan. Hardwick, MA: Satya House Publications, 2011. This delightful children’s book tells the story of a day in the life of an Afghan girl living in Bamyan. This book, written in both English and Dari, rings true to my experiences there and is a great introduction to Afghanistan for young children. I see the Sun in Afghanistan is part of a series that includes China, Nepal, and Russia.
Klaits, Alex and Gulchin. Love and War in Afghanistan. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005. Love and War gives voice to a dozen Afghans who lived in and around the northern province of Kunduz from the time of the Soviet War through 2005. The diverse subjects of the interviews, both men and women, with their varying situations and viewpoints broaden our understanding of “life on the ground” among the different players and victims during the wars. One of the stories is of an ex-Soviet soldier who was captured by the mujahidin and settled there after the war. Fascinating.
Kristof, Nicholas D. and Wudunn, Sheryl. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for women Worldwide. Canada: Alfred Knop , Random House, 2009. This book includes insightful chapters on women in Afghanistan and Pakistan who are able to make important changes in their country. An eye-opening and inspiring look into the lives and situations of women, and more importantly, a guide to ways to help.
Lamb, Christina. The Sewing Circles of Herat A Personal Voyage through Afghanistan. NY: HarperCollins, 2002. Ms. Lamb, a British foreign correspondent, spent extensive time in Pakistan and Afghanistan during the late 80s. She returned in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban to find out what had happened to the people she had met as a young graduate. This book contains some surprising interviews and interesting insight into the effect of war on individuals, mostly in Herat. It also contains a good bibliography.
Latifa, with Hachemi, Shékéba. My Forbidden Face: Growing up under the Taliban: A Young Woman’s Story. New York, NY: Hyperion, 2001. This book is written from the perspective of a 16 year old and so is suitable for young readers. It portrays Latifa as a young woman whom women and girls in the West can easily relate to because her (pre-Taliban) life, hopes and dreams are so similar. My Forbidden Face gives a real feeling of her life under the Taliban. There is a brief chronology of Afghan history at the end.
Lemmon, Gayle Tzemach. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe. New York: NY HarperCollins, 2011. Even more interesting than the spellbinding story is the detailed description of Kabul during the Taliban and the intimate portrayal of the lives of Kamila and her sisters. This book reads like a swift-paced novel but the characters are real people and the book completes their stories with a current update on where they are today.
Magnus, Ralph H. and Naby, Eden. Afghanistan: Mullah, Marx and Mujahid. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000. An excellent textbook about the geopolitics giving rise to the Taliban, this book is a good resource for a historical perspective on the country. It has a detailed timeline as well as brief bios of the modern rulers.
Mortinson, Greg. Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. New York, NY: Viking Press, Penguin group, 2009. The story begun in Three Cups of Tea continues with school building projects in the most remote areas of the Afghan Wakhan Corridor. This book provides insights not found in many other books on Afghanistan, such as using ex-Taliban as teachers, the extraordinary challenges of getting building materials to remote areas, and how, after all other options had failed, the Afghans, under strong local leadership, met the challenge on their own.
Pasha, Kamran. Mother of the Believers, A novel of the Birth of Islam. New York, NY: Washington Square Press, 2009. Meticulously researched, this expansive novel tells the story of the birth of Islam from the Prophet’s fourth wife, Aisha’s, point of view. Mother is the fascinating story of a young girl as she develops into a teacher, political leader and warrior. This book is an enjoyable and interesting way to learn about the origins of Islam.
Pazira, Nelofer. A Bed of Red Flowers: In Search of My Afghanistan. New York, NY: Free Press, 2005. Afghanistan’s history comes to life in this story of Nelofer’s experiences and resistance activities during the Soviet war. She was saddened to leave her friend behind when her family evacuated, so decades later she returned to find her. The film, Kandahar is based on this book.
Rashid, Ahmed. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001. A chapter titled Heroin and the Taliban Economy and the section on oil and pipelines make this book important for understanding the economy of the Taliban era. The book also includes extensive notes, a bibliography, a chronology, and tables of pipeline information.
—. Descent into Chaos: The United States and the failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2008. Utilizing his connections in very high and very low places, this extremely well documented book offers a panoramic view along with detailed nuance that give insight into the many reasons for the current situation.
Rostami-Povey, Elaheh. Afghan Women: Identify and Invasion. London: Zed Books, 2007.
This scholarly work, using stories from Ms. Rostami-Povey’s interviews, shows how Afghan women have fought repression within Afghanistan and in the diaspora. Insight gained from her diverse subjects helps challenge assumptions and stereotypes and places Afghan women’s struggle for equality in the light of post-conflict development in Afghanistan.
Seierstad, Åsne. The Bookseller of Kabul. Trans. Christophersen, Ingrid. New York, NY: Back Bay Books, 2004. After six weeks spent with the commandos of the Northern Alliance, Asne came to Kabul where she met a bookseller. He invited her to live with his family for three months during the spring when the Taliban took its flight. This fascinating book brings offers an intimate description of an Afghan household and an intimate portrait of the lives of one family.
Saheed, Suraya with Lewis, Damien. Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse: The True Story of a Woman Who Risked Everything to Bring Hope to Afghanistan. New York, NY: Hyperion Books 2011. Forbidden Lessons tells the story of an extraordinarily brave Afghan-American woman who began raising money and delivering aid during the Afghan Civil War and continued during the Taliban and afterwards. The first-hand account of her struggles to deliver aid during those times is compelling and enlightening.
Stewart, Rory and Knaus, Gerald. Can Intervention Work? W.W. Norton and Company, New York, NY 2011. These two experts on the interventions in Kosovo and Afghanistan, compare lessons learned in each. They show how both liberal imperialist and neoconservative dogmas have led us astray in our endeavors to improve situations around the world and offer their own suggestions.