Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Come Back to Afghanistan by Said Ryder Akbar

Thursday, June 14, 2007

4th Non-Fiction Five Challenge

By Said Hyder Akbar
and Susan Burton
Said Hyder Akbar was born in Pakistan after his family fled Afghanistan when it was invaded by the Russians. The family eventually ends up near San Francisco, where Hyder grows up as an ordinary American teenager. 9/11 changes all that. Hyder's father decides to go back to his native country to help rebuild after the Taliban has been ousted by the Americans. Hyder wants to spend the summer there observing. This book chronicles Hyder's experiences that summer and the following two summers. The first summer the father, Said Fazel Akbar, is appointed to be the presidential spokesman who deals with all the reporters. I love how Hyder describes his first summer in Kabul:
"In the days since, I've been here in the hotel room a lot. My father leaves for meetings, and I sit inside, the traffice sounds from the street rising up through the open window. I count the bugs flying around the room (fifteen) and my mosquito bites (seven on my left arm, four on my right), all the while doing my best to dismiss a nagging feeling that I should have taken a malaria shot. I'm having a hard time sleeping at night--my father snores--and my eyeballs ache with fatigue. There's nothing to do except listen to music on my Discman or on a radio station that seems to cater to the German peacekeeping troops (Nine-ty-nine red balloons . . .) I pine for standard forms of entertainment the way someone in a teen movie might pine for love. Even if I just had the Internet or something, I despair. I can't even go out for a snack, since everything makes me sick, including French fries."
Doesn't he sound like a typical teenager? He spends a considerable amount of time being sick, described with the verve of any young man. I guess each summer requires a new adjustment to the Afghan cuisine. Things don't remain mundane for long as he finds himself immersed in the the political growth of a developing nation. Hyder writes uncommonly well for someone so young, (I'm sure the ghostwriter helped), but he conveys the difficulties of the country so well because he knows how to write for the American public and he so obviously cares for the Afghans. Here are some other quotes that I hope capture the feeling of this book:
"After a couple of months of comfort, I actually miss Kabul's volatility. Life there was just more interesting, I think. Then there's the corollary: There I was more interesting. And the tone of the place: Over there, people are so simple, more real. When I begin having thoughts like these, I know I've already been away too long. When you starting idealizing Afghanistan, it's time to go back."
"My conversaation with Khalilzad (U S special envoy to Afghanistan) was recorded with a layer of static over it. It will be impossible to broadcast on the radio. You have to reach down through a layer of fuzz to get to the words. In a way, it's a metaphor for my own experience doing these interviews; though I asked the questsions, the answer remain obscure. I can't figure it out; can't determine why the superheroes are always losing, and the bad guys always getting power, and winning in the end." (Here he is referring to the Afghan leaders who want to rebuild the country versus the warlords who just want to retain their power.)
"Oddly, it's the slack--the downtime--that I dislike. The prospect of another ambush doesn't terrify me; being cooped up in the compound does. Everyday life is the hardest thing here, especially after coming from America, where boredom is viewed as an actual injustice."
"There's something we call sher swayee in Afghanistan: riding the lion. The story behind the phrase goes like this. The lion is sleeping. A daring person sits atop the silent creature. Then the lion wakes up, and the person is caught unawares. Now he is riding the fierce animal, and he doesn't know how to get off. A lot of people compare trying to rule Afghanistan to riding the lion. While Afghanistan is sleeping, it's easy to sneak in; it's trying to get out that's the problem. My father, Karzai (the president), the Americans--they are all riding the lion. And then, there's me. Even in my room in California, I feel like I am astride that same golden beast, my hands tangled in its long mane."
Because of his father's position, first with the central government and later as the governor of the province of Kunar, Hyder is in a unique position to witness many historical events, meet the movers and shakers of the country as well as relay much of the culture and feel of the country. He thrills when he is taught to shoot an AK, interprets during an interrogation for the US army, (the prisoner dies and the interrogator, Dave Passaro, is later charged, after the abuses at Abu Ghraib, for the beating death of that prisoner.), conducts radio interviews with dignitaries and average Afghans that are later broadcast in the States, lives through rocket attacks, hikes over the mountains to Pakistan with an infected toe, and, of course, endures sometimes violent reactions to the food he eats. This book is an insightful glimpse into a country that we hear too little about.
Rating: 4.5
Booklogged said...
Talk about culture shock. This sounds so interesting - such personal, in-your-face experiences told by a candid teen.One question - WHEN am I going to find the time to read this? Oh right, next summer for the Non-Fiction challenge. Whew!
6/15/2007 1:05 AM
sage said...
This book sounds interesting, thanks for the review.

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