February’s theme is one of my all-time favourites; ever since reading The Kite Runner back in college, I’ve sought out books that offer an honest account of what it’s really like to live there. Despite never having visited (though I plan to one day), it has held a soft spot in my heart for over a decade. I feel a connection with the strong women, ache at the long-term suffering caused by conflict and the Taliban, and long to visit the sweeping landscapes untouched by war.
Many people’s perceptions of Afghanistan are tainted by everlasting wars that have ravaged the country for decades. It’s important to understand the history and the regimes behind the unrest, much of which is explored in most books set in the country. War doesn’t define Afghanistan though; it’s also ethnically diverse, bursting with natural beauty, and a home to those who either cannot or will not leave their country behind.
Based on the ones I’ve read, ‘books set in Afghanistan’ also translates to ‘books that inspire you’. These diverse reads blend brutal yet real history with a captivating story that bring every element of Afghanistan to life.
Every month, I share my top recommendation. For February it is:
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Fiction (blend of historical and contemporary)
You’ll notice Hosseini crop up a few times in this post (a master storyteller if ever there was one), but my spotlight had to feature the book that started it all for me. As with my January spotlight, I read The Kite Runner when I was in college, studying English Literature. I’ve read it countless times, seen the movie (shock I know), and sobbed my heart out watching the play on stage. I can’t tell you how much I love it; the characters, the writing, the themes, the diversity – it ticks every box for me.
First published in 2003, The Kite Runner is an unforgettable tale of friendship, deception, and redemption. Amir and Hassan are best friends. They live in the same household, fly kites together, and love to read. But childhood innocence doesn’t last forever. Amir is wealthy. Hassan is a servant. After a triumphant kite tournament, a traumatic event occurs and Amir’s inactions destroy what was once an unbreakable bond.
Here are some other books set in Afghanistan that I highly recommend:
Born Under A Million Shadows by Andrea Busfield
Genre: Fiction/coming of age
It’s been a while since I read Born Under A Million Shadows but I remember it exceeded all my expectations, especially when competing against Hosseini’s works. It follows Fawad, a boy who is energetic and charming, despite the grief he has lived through in his short eleven years on earth. When his mother finds work as a housekeeper, Fawad strikes up a friendship with the British female resident, though he is jealous to find out she is in love with a powerful Afghan warlord. But tragedy is never far away and Fawad’s is left to question his undying love for his country.
And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Fiction (mix of historical and contemporary)
And The Mountains Echoed is a beautifully written novel that spans decades and generations, portraying characters that are utterly human – flaws, weaknesses, and tragedy intersperse with selflessness, compassion and unbreakable bonds. It begins in Afghanistan 1952, where Abdullah and his sister Pari live in poverty but make the most of what little they have. Seeking a better life, they journey across the desert with their father, oblivious to the fate that awaits to tear their lives apart.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Fiction (mix of historical and contemporary)
A Thousand Splendid Suns is another book I read and analysed for English Literature and it has remained one of my favourite books of all time. If you’re looking for a book that explores the history of Afghanistan, this is your pick. Spanning three decades, this harrowing novel tells the story of two women, born 20 years apart, who, trapped in violent and fearful marriages, seek solace in one another. It depicts strength among women, the devastating effects of a brutal war, and an epic journey of survival.
The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad
It’s a long time since I’ve read this one but it gives a good insight into traditional Afghan customs and traditions. After the reign of the Taliban ended in 2002, Åsne lived with Sultan Khan, a bookseller and anti-authoritarian, and his family for four months in Kabul. The Bookseller of Kabul relates her experience from the eyes of the Khans; how Sultan defiantly supplied books to his community despite persecution, his strict views on the role of women, and the daily lives of a typical Afghan family.
Also recommended by @read.write.janis.
Recommendations from the book community
I put the question to my Bookstagram followers and asked for their top book recommendations for books set in Afghanistan. I can’t wait to read these ones!
- The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi, recommended by @stefaniputria and @suethebookie (historical fiction)
- The Sewing Circles of Herat: A Personal Voyage Through Afghanistan by Christina Lamb, recommended by @ttamucci (non-fiction/travel)
- Shadow by Michael Morpurgo, recommended by @minaal.reads (middle-grade war fiction)
- Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes To Weep by Siba Shakib, recommended by @bernsbooksanddrinks (non-fiction/biography)
Books I plan to read
As well as recommendations from the book community, I’ve also done some research on books I’d like to read for this month’s challenge:
- The Night Letters by Denise Leith (fiction)
- The dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon (non-fiction/biography)
- Under The Almond Tree by Laura McVeigh (historical fiction)
- The Finest Supermarket in Kabul by Ele Pawelski (novella inspired by true events)
- A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie (historical fiction)
Slightly smaller list for this month but some really good ones here to choose from. Please drop me a comment or a message on Insta if you’ve read any of these or have any to recommend!