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Monday, November 10, 2008

The Wasted Vigil

Aslam, Nadeem. The Wasted Vigil.

To echo my comments from my in progress post: this book is beautiful and terrible.

Searingly honest, the book spares no country and few individuals, despite their "convictions" or "passionate intensity." (I simply cannot think of the book without thinking of Yeat's poem.)

Afghanistan's history, the Muslim religion, the Russians, the Americans, the Afghans are all brutally illuminated through the stories of Marcus, Qatrina, Zadeem, David, and Lara, who find themselves caught in the web of Afghanistan's culture and history, a web that continues moving out from the center, sticky and deadly.

Beautifully, lyrically written, Aslam describes the delicate colors of the landscape and the horrifying treatment of women, prisoners, enemies, and victims of "collateral damage" by any of the warring factions. He creates a sense of place and beauty in Marcus' home, full of color, culture, perfumed scents, quiet goodness, but never lets you believe that it is a safe haven, even if it does provide sanctuary.

"Easy to imagine, at such an hour, how Qatrina could have filled notebooks with the colours she found in a square foot of nature. An olive grove outside Jalabad--grey, white, green. A mallow blossom--red orange, sulphur, yellow bone, red-wine shadow. The mountains above the house--silver, evasive grey, blue, sapphire water."

The book seems disjointed at times, almost stream-of-consciousness, as the story unfolds in fits and starts, jumping from present to past, gradually revealing and intertwining. Initially disconcerting, the technique proves very effective, and the reader falls into the spiralling events, moving here and there with the characters, the past, the present, thoughts, memories.

Perhaps the most amazing thing to me is that Aslam has written a book that tells of love and hate; healers and murderers; religious zealots and political zealots; courage and gentleness and unbelievable horror...with such clarity, with such even-handedness, with a cool, calm distance that allows the reader to absorb the information without feeling overwhelmed with grief, without succumbing to total desolation. The author does not flinch from the truth and manages to keep the reader with him because of his deft, sensitive touch in presenting this truth.

A remarkable book. I'm very grateful for the review copy I received and will pass this book on. I expect to see it listed for literary prizes and deserves them. Highly recommended; don't miss this one.

Fiction. Historical fiction/ Contemporary fiction. 2008. 320 pages.


  1. Wow. This book sounds amazing, Jenclair. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for this one. Thank you for the great review.

  2. rach - An incredible read.

    LF - Amazing the way fiction can tell us more than fact in some cases, can make events seem more real, more understandable, less comprehensible.

  3. I agree with what you just wrote to LF. This is a beautiful review, Jenclair. Sounds like a book you won't soon forget.

    I read a book about Afghanistan years ago that had an impact on me and every time I vote I think of it. Other times, too, but always when I vote.

  4. booklogged - You are right, I won't forget this book soon. It is the kind that lingers in your thoughts.

    I find myself thinking about how lucky we are in our country and culture, despite all of our problems. I can not imagine living in such circumstances...

  5. Oh wow, this sounds wonderful. I do have a copy of this book and just haven't gotten to it. thank you for reminding me to move it up in the stacks!

  6. "Beautiful and terrible" really caught my eye. Sounds like a fascinating, wonderful book. Thanks for a terrific review, once again, Jenclair! I'll have to look for this one.

  7. iliana - I hope you like it when you get around to it! I'll be looking for your review.

    bookfool - I found it a riveting read. Nadeem Aslam is someone to watch. and I'm going to look for his Maps for Lost Lovers, too.