In what began as two episodes of NPR's This American Life, Akbar recounts his pilgrimage to his home country with precocious wisdom and insight, taking readers from palaces to prisons and from Kabul to the borderlands in a revealing portrait of a country in the midst of a historic transition.
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"Honest and precociously articulate, Akbar, now 20, filters complex Afghan traditions and history through a pop-culture lens."-Entertainment Weekly
"There's no shortage of realistic detail. This is a book that leaves dust in your hair and blows sand into your teeth."-San Francisco Chronicle
"Raw, honest and unnerving, the book is a grim reminder of Afghanistan's ongoing political struggles."-USA Today
Said Hyder Akbar is currently a junior at Yale University in New Haven, CT. He is also codirector and founder of his own nongovernmental organization, Wadan Afghanistan, which has rebuilt schools and constructed pipe systems in rural Kunar province. Susan Burton is a contributing editor of This American Life and a former editor at Harper's. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine.
Also available: HC ISBN 1-58234-520-1 ISBN-13 978-1-58234-520-8 $24.95
Akbar's refreshingly unsentimental reminiscences of visiting his father's homeland as a teen make for an intriguing portrait of Afghanistan at a time of significant transition. On 9/11, Akbar, who was born in Peshawar in 1984 but grew up in the U.S., was living near Oakland, Calif., where his father ran a clothing store. After the attack, the elder Akbar, a descendant of an Afghan political family, returned to his country to take a job as President Hamid Karzai's chief spokesman and, later, as governor of Kunar, a rural province. The author visited his father for three successive summers, and the result is this account, a closeup view of the creation of the country's post-Taliban democratic government, told from a perspective that's impressively both insider and objective. Akbar reports on chats with cabinet ministers and warlords, and sketches the lay of the land, visiting both sumptuous Kabul palaces as well as bombed-out villages. His youth and curiosity send him on some dangerous adventures (he retraces a mountain route between Afghanistan and Pakistan used by fleeing members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban), and that youthful flavor also infuses the writing with a hip stream-of-consciousness that is by turns funny, insightful and, occasionally, breathtaking.