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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
Boom . . . m . . . m . . . The terrible sound of something exploding and collapsing . . . The awe of explosion and dynamite . . . A huge amount of explosives had been used. The devastating explosion,…
Translated from Dari by Tahar Lamri
To Arrive
When you get off the airplane, it will not be like Kabul airport, or like other cities of Afghanistan for that matter, where they drive stairs up and attach them to the door and then take down the passengers…
Translated from Dari
Dasht-e Leili
After the doors were shut, the tomblike cargo container had become dark. With our hands and feet bound with the fabric of our own turbans, we had fallen on top of each other and the only thing we could…
Translated from Dari
—That makes exactly four kilos. When she heard these words a smile spread across her lips and she looked at her little son… The shopkeeper kept talking: —Sister, take this money…it’s…
Translated from Pashto
The Spectacle
It was late in the evening when he came home. His wife sat on the veranda in front of the house, and he approached their sick five-year-old son who was lying on a bed. He took off his shawl, and as he…
Translated from Pashto by Laia Fàbregas & Samantha Schnee
The Man Who Went into the Hills
He was walking quickly through the alley. His eyes were wide open and he stared frantically straight in front of him. A group of people was tossing banana skins in the middle of the street. The walking…
Translated from Pashto by Nerina Cocchi
Embraced by the Grave
Oh, I must have fallen asleep really late. This place is cramped, it is hard to breathe. Hold on, let me switch the lights on, how dark it is in here, and why am I having so much trouble breathing? Ouch!…
Translated from Pashto by Lavinia Liang
Dos Manzanas
You have to see him there on the streets of an old neighborhood in Madrid; you have to look for him, young and tanned, with an open white shirt, specked with some paltry design, a style out of fashion,…
Translated from Spanish
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
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
I Went to See Her, Pa
By William Phuan
I bent down, cupping my hand over my eyes, as if shielding them from the sun, and I whispered to him, “I went to see her, Pa. I went to see her.” * The last time I visited him, he didn’t…
Translated from Maltese by Wong Koi Tet
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
White Angel
Gabriel died three times. Some insist that even his third and last passing away was no genuine death since his papier-mâché souls still decorate countless streets during the village fiestas:…
Translated from Maltese
Green Line
She has to get on the train. It’s not her choice, but there’s no way she can avoid it. Her brother and sister have made up their minds.The District Line from Stepney Green to London Victoria.…
Translated from Maltese
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