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May 2011

Writing from Afghanistan

This month we present writing from Afghanistan. Afghanistan is known to most English-language readers in a strictly political context, and much of what is said and written about Afghanistan in the West comes from an outside perspective. Yet we can best appreciate this country and culture through the eyes of its writers. We hope that the writing in this issue, with its focus on individual lives both on and off the battlefield, will provide a more nuanced view from which to consider this country and its culture.

This collection of writing translated from Dari and Pashto evokes the current situation with clarity and immediacy.  Mohammad Hussain Mohammadi’s wrenching "Dasht-e Leili" tells the story of the infamous massacre from the viewpoints of soldiers on both sides of the battle. Zalmay Babakoh’s “Idol’s Dust” turns the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas  into sly revenge. Asef Soltanzadah's "To Arrive" follows an elderly Afghan on a disorienting, chaotic journey to reunite with his émigré son in Denmark.  Pir Mohammad Karwan’s crazed paranoic heads for the hills, while Mahmud Marhun’s martyr finds himself in an unexpected place.  Parvin Faiz  Zadah Malal and Khan Mohammed Sind portray the harsh poverty of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. And the poets Zahra Hosseinzadeh, Qanbar Ali Tabesh, and Aman Mirzai speak of life among Afghan exiles in Iran. We thank guest editor Anders Widmark for his selections, translations, and contextual introduction.

The View from Within: An Introduction to New Afghan Literature
In a discussion at the House of Culture in Stockholm just over a week ago, the Afghan writer Atiq Rahimi, having summarized the last three decades of Afghan history, concluded laconically  that the…
The Idol’s Dust
By Zalmay Babakohi
The great Buddha had broken to pieces and disintegrated into millions of smaller Buddhas.
Translated from Dari by Anders Widmark
Multilingual
To Arrive
By Asef Soltanzadeh
Where did you board the wrong airplane? Tehran? Istanbul? Frankfurt?
Translated from Dari by Anders Widmark
Dasht-e Leili
By Mohammad Hussain Mohammadi
The man next to me is licking the sweat on my arm.
Translated from Dari by Anders Widmark
Hate
By Parvin Faiz Zadah Malal
I have told you several times to throw that to the dogs, not to give it to the Kabulis.
Translated from Pashto by Anders Widmark
The Spectacle
By Khan Mohammad Sind
Sarwar was shot through the air like a glittering bird.
Translated from Pashto by Anders Widmark
The Man Who Went into the Hills
By Pir Mohammad Karwan
I will destroy my television and smash my radio as well.
Translated from Pashto by Anders Widmark
Multilingual
Embraced by the Grave
By Mahmud Marhun
You have never been a mujahid.
Translated from Pashto by Anders Widmark
Dos Manzanas
By Ernesto Pérez Zúñiga
And try to imagine what we will never know for sure: what old grudge (since it did not stem from us) and what precise urgency are at the root of everything that is going to happen today
Translated from Spanish by Jonathan Blitzer
Multilingual
Take a Number on Saturdays
Take a ticket, the prescription, and a handful of torn money, stand at the end of the queue on Saturdays, take a number. Tayyebah’s unwell again—you’ve got to make a phone call and negotiate…
Translated from Dari
Multilingual
The Destiny of a Leaf
A man is not a bird that he might make his home on any shore he flies to. A man has the destiny of a leaf. A leaf, when separated from the heights of its branch, is trampled underfoot by passersby in…
Translated from Dari
Multilingual
I Went to See Her, Pa
By Pierre Mejlak
The door opens and there in front of me is my father’s Spanish lady.
Translated from Maltese by Antoine Cassar
Multilingual
The Sewing Machine
The sewing machine’s quiet hum was my mother’s sad song. At my father’s stall it was her peasant trousers that could send me to school answer the landlord and buy medicine. My sister…
Translated from Dari
Multilingual
White Angel
By Trevor Zahra
Gabriel died three times.
Translated from Maltese by Ruben Zahra
Multilingual
Green Line
By Clare Azzopardi
She lit a cigarette and stubbed it out repeatedly on her flabby thighs.
Translated from Maltese by Albert Gatt
Multilingual
Contraband Forms: An Interview with Ernesto Pérez Zúñiga
By Ivan Navarro
Jonathan Blitzer:  You have written three books of poems, two short-story collections, and three novels.  But for the first part of your career—and while you lived in Granada, where you…
Translated from Spanish
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