I am still reeling from having finished Nadeem Aslam Aslams book The Wasted Vigil, author of the previously well revieiwed Maps for lost lovers. This is a story that is hard to categorise. For those who want to read about the degradation of women under the Taliban, then there’s something for you. If you want to read about misguided Americans meddling in Afghanistan’s culture then you won’t be disappointed. If you want to get inside the mind of a young member of the Taliban or experience Russia’s brutal invasion of Afghanistan then it is all here; a poetic and personal lesson in Afghanistan’s history. It’s compelling brutal reading, at times hard to read, but is an incredibly powerful way for a writer to convey the complexities of this country to those of us in the west, who find it all so hard to comprehend.
There are four main characters; Marcus, an Englishman who has adopted Afghanistan as his home, Lara, a Russian woman who has come to find what happened to her brother who was a Russian soldier, David an American ex spy, and Casa, a young man in the thrall of the Taliban. All end up at Marcus’s house, a home that he once shared with his Afghani wife, and a place where books are nailed to the ceiling, in the hope that they won’t be found by the Taliban.
The story moves about from present to past, dreams to reality, brutality to tenderness. There are no answers and no happy endings, how can there be? The story is political without having an obvious agenda, and for those of you, like me, who want history that is based on people rather than events then this is a hard, but engrossing read.