Padma Baliga
Padma Baliga
99 NIGHTS IN LOGAR by Jamil Jan Kochai Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019, 288 pp., 599
November 2019, volume 43, No 11

Take a deep breath and open this book and journey into a country you have never visited before. If your only knowledge of Afghanistan has been through news clippings, Hollywood and Disney films, or books written by American soldiers, journalists and writers, then you are in for a treat. Jamil Jan Kochai makes us discard the monochromatic lens with which we viewed Afghanistan earlier and shows us a land and people who laugh, squabble, crack ribald jokes, feel pain, grieve, fall in love, pray and play.

Twelve-year-old Marwand, the first-person narrator, who moved to America with his family when he was six returns to Afghanistan for a holiday. On the threshold of his teen years, he is both an insider and outsider in his mother’s family who stay in Logar. They welcome him with open arms and accept him as one of them but Marwand notes that he has forgotten most of his Pakhto and that his digestive system does not agree with Afghan food any longer. In the US, Marwand had learnt about treating family pets with love and, regretting the times he had thrown stones at the family dog earlier in Logar, he rushes out to embrace it. The dog Budabash bites off the tip of his index finger and a few days later, runs away from the family compound. Marwand, his cousin Zia, Gul and Dawood his ‘little uncles’ set out to find the dog. In the process, through a form of nested storytelling reminiscent of the Arabian Nights or the Panchatantra, Marwand and the reader learn about the history of Afghanistan, the resilience of its people, how their personal and familial history, their lives and their loves are invariably tied up with tribal warfare and the invading Russian and American troops.

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