Torch Song for Afghanistan

From The New York Times:

Book Nadeem Aslam, a Pakistani novelist who lives in England and has visited Afghanistan extensively, has now made his own bid for the fictional peaks. In “The Wasted Vigil,” he ranges across the country’s ancient and modern history, punctuating his narrative with cross-cultural allusions. Unafraid of political complexity, he is also unflinching in his examination of depravity — of torture, rape and gore. Yet his writing also encompasses tenderness. Aslam’s characters are intricately wounded and geographically diverse. Lara is a Russian who has been attacked with a tire iron for letting her feet point toward Mecca while sleeping amid a crowd of travelers. She has come to Afghanistan to find her long-lost brother, a soldier who is, she discovers, also a rapist. Casa, wounded in a trip-wired field of flintlock guns on tripods, is an Afghan orphan raised by Taliban jihadists in sadistic training camps. Marcus, a Briton who is missing a hand, lost his Afghan wife to the Taliban, and their daughter to the Soviet invasion. David, an American, is a former spy whose brother disappeared during the fighting in Vietnam.

They all come together in Marcus’s house in the countryside near Jalalabad. It is a noisy house, and for a particularly bizarre reason. Marcus’s now deceased wife, forced by the Taliban to cut off her husband’s hand in front of a crowd at a local stadium, went mad in the aftermath and nailed their extensive book collection to the ceiling. The books often fall down with thuds and thwacks. It is also a dirty house because Marcus was forced to put mud on the walls to hide painted images of lovers that had been banned by the Taliban. And it is a suggestive house, filled with strange scents, because Marcus’s defunct perfume factory lies under the ground nearby. As if this weren’t unsettling enough, a giant relic, an ancient stone Buddha’s head, was uncovered during the excavation and left in place on the factory floor.

More here.