14 August 2006

The Sewing Circles of Herat

While this book wasn't really about the sewing circles of Herat (although they are mentioned), it was a fascinating book about Afghanistan. Christina Lamb spent a lot of time reporting in Afghanistan before the Taliban took control of most of the country and then returned after the Taliban were deposed in 2001. She adds a lot of the history of the region, but mostly it's about the people and places she knew in the late 80s and early 90s and how they fared through the Taliban years.

Her comparisons of various cities in Afghanistan, especially Kabul, Herat, and Kandahar were very interesting. She interviews a huge number of people and writes about everyone from Hamid Karzai to the people selling in the bazaar.

The stories of covert resistance to the Taliban were some of the best parts of the book. Artists who painted over figures in oil paintings with watercolors that could later be washed off, men and women who worked secretly to continue educating girls in the country, and people trying to get their stories told to the rest of the world when they felt like the world had forgotten Afghanistan all are here.

It also brought up a lot of questions for me again- mainly that of what the US should really be doing in its international policy. Sure, the Taliban is gone, but nearly five years later, we've largely forgotten Afghanistan again and the country is still neither stable, peaceful, or democratic. We can't fix other countries. But do we have a responsibility to help countries with awful leaders? Is there anything we can do where we can't be blamed for messing things up or for not taking enough action? I don't think so.

I recommend this book, particularly as a good introduction into the history of Afghanistan (although her interviews will make a lot more sense if you know who the people are that she's talking about). Lamb clearly and is not there just because she is assigned or because it might be the most popular war around for a while. She simply loves Afghanistan.

One of my favorite comparisons was near the end of the book when Lamb was trying to find a woman, Marra, who had sent her some anonymous letters near the end of the Taliban occupation. Lamb knew the general area where Marra had lived at one point and sets off to find her armed with some letters. As she knocks on strangers doors, she is invariably invited in and offered food and help. She compares that to the reception an Afghan wandering around her neighborhood in London in similar circumstances would have gotten. There's a lot we can learn from others.


  1. I'm so glad you wrote this--this book is in my To Read pile but I haven't picked it up yet because I wasn't sure if it was worth the time.

  2. I hope you like it. It was a quick read which is always nice.