Love and inhumanity

2008-12-17 00:00

I WAS reading The Wasted Vigil when the news broke of the death of a young South African-born aid worker, gunned down in Kabul. Her murder resembled so many of the incidents in this book, set as it is in modern-day Afghanistan, a country still reeling from the effects of the rule of the Taliban, and the Russian and American occupations.

Nadeem Aslam has written a tale that weaves its way through the conflicts of the past quarter century in Afghanistan, linking together a small group of people all still searching for answers about what happened to their loved ones.

A Russian woman named Lara arrives at the house of Marcus Caldwell, an English doctor and widower living in an old perfume factory near the Tora Bora mountains. It is possible that Marcus’s daughter, Zameen, may have known Lara’s brother, a Soviet soldier who disappeared in the area many years previously. Marcus and an American named David, who used to be an operative for the U.S. government under the guise of being a gem dealer, are on their own quest. They are looking for Zameen’s son, who was abducted with his mother by a local warlord when he was four years old. Zameen, who was David’s lover, is dead, but the men believe that the boy may have survived. Into the picture comes Casa, a radicalised young man who is intent on martyrdom.

The history that unfolds is a relentless march of extreme cruelty, brutality, violence and inhumanity, with all the parties equally culpable. Impossible as it may seem, Aslam manages to thread through this horrific background a tale of love and caring, painting with words beautiful images of colour, scent, sound and literature, and creating a sense of what Afghanistan could be. But if Barack Obama’s advisers are telling him that this is a war that can be won, I fear they are mistaken.

I WAS reading The Wasted Vigil when the news broke of the death of a young South African-born aid worker, gunned down in Kabul. Her murder resembled so many of the incidents in this book, set as it is in modern-day Afghanistan, a country still reeling from the effects of the rule of the Taliban, and the Russian and American occupations.

Nadeem Aslam has written a tale that weaves its way through the conflicts of the past quarter century in Afghanistan, linking together a small group of people all still searching for answers about what happened to their loved ones.

A Russian woman named Lara arrives at the house of Marcus Caldwell, an English doctor and widower living in an old perfume factory near the Tora Bora mountains. It is possible that Marcus’s daughter, Zameen, may have known Lara’s brother, a Soviet soldier who disappeared in the area many years previously. Marcus and an American named David, who used to be an operative for the U.S. government under the guise of being a gem dealer, are on their own quest. They are looking for Zameen’s son, who was abducted with his mother by a local warlord when he was four years old. Zameen, who was David’s lover, is dead, but the men believe that the boy may have survived. Into the picture comes Casa, a radicalised young man who is intent on martyrdom.

The history that unfolds is a relentless march of extreme cruelty, brutality, violence and inhumanity, with all the parties equally culpable. Impossible as it may seem, Aslam manages to thread through this horrific background a tale of love and caring, painting with words beautiful images of colour, scent, sound and literature, and creating a sense of what Afghanistan could be. But if Barack Obama’s advisers are telling him that this is a war that can be won, I fear they are mistaken.

Diana Procter

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