*West of Kabul, East of New York by Tamin Ansary (2002)

Ansary first wrote an email shortly after 9/11 because he was outraged and saddened by reports that the U.S. should “bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age.”  Unable to talk about it, he instead sent an email to 30 or so of his friends offering his views about the terrorist attacks, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.  That email in turn went to their friends and so on.  Turns out, it was read by a million or more people.  From there, news agencies and TV programs picked up on it and Ansary spoke more.  Eventually, he wrote this book.  It’s fascinating in the first third, it drags through the middle, and it’s interesting near the end.  He probably goes into more detail than he needs to about his life and his family in Afghanistan because he seems to get away from the purpose of the book, but some of the details are really intriguing.  He begins by stating that there’s no real need to bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age becasue the Soviets already did it.  Schools, hospitals, and infrastructure were leveled years ago and mostly stayed that way.  The country is one of the poorest in the world and the Taliban, a group he refers to as “ignorant psychotics” took over the country in 1997.  He says we can bomb all we want, but the Taliban will simply hide in the many caves, and bombing will only further destroy an already destroyed country (and waste a lot of bombs).  Possibly the most interesting part of the book was his reference to the Ghaznavid Empire which thrived in the early middle ages spanning from India to the Caspian Sea, covering all the area of Afghanistan and much more.  It was an empire of Turks, Arabs, and Persians that, according to the author, “rivaled the Italian Renaissance” with poetry, art, literature and the like.  But the great war hero Ghengis Khan came through and dumped the libraries into the river and tore up all the irrigation that had created the Helmand Valley breadbasket.  Apparently Ghengis Khan thought they should eat meat, not grain.  So we learn that this devastated country was once a place of greatness, its past now mired in poverty and rubble.  What a history lesson.  This book is worth reading simply for its glimpse into a life that most of know little about, a life and culture that is far removed from today’s Afghanistan.   Memoir.

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