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The Wasted Vigil

Though world leaders continually misjudge their roles and responsibilities in dealing with Afghanistan, several writers are sharing valuable insights. Nadeem Aslam is one of them.

Book Digest Afghanistan, frequently referred to as the burial ground of empires or somesuch, may well turn out to be Barack Obama’s pivot point to a second term—and the United States’s long downward spiral into oblivion. Based on his campaign assertions, he would seem be continuing the naïve view that has characterized our ongoing failures in that hard, heartless place. Bob Herbert reminds us of this folly, and Dexter Filkins adds some on-the-ground reality to this disaster-in-progress. Of course, if you and I and others were paying attention to the above citations we might already have preemptive demonstrations in the streets instead of all this short-sighted post-election self-congratulation. There have been recent literary pathways to insights into the Afghan, uh, problem: Afghan-British journalist Saira Shah’s The Storyteller’s Daughter; In Between Places, Rory Peterson’s account of his walk across Afghanistan; Tom Bissell’s story “Death Defier.”

Now comes The Wasted Vigil (Knopf), Pakistani novelist Nadeem Aslam’s (Maps for Lost Lovers) new opus set in the present-day pressure cooker of Afghanistan with a cast that includes an American ex-spy doing some form of penance, a Russian woman looking for closure on her soldier brother’s story, and an expatriated British doctor whose Afghan wife was hideously murdered by the Taliban. Without off-putting didacticism, The Wasted Vigil is rife with the cruel facts that should viewed as billboard warnings against further foreign involvement in what I see as the Asian Balkans; no doubt these warnings will not be heeded. Which thankfully is not Aslam’s responsibility—all he did was create a hypnotic narrative with a palette of prose that illuminates people in trouble against the chiaroscuro of another benighted nation’s history.

Related to the above-mentioned work by Saira Shah, here is a clip from her illuminating television documentary Beneath the Veil.
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