The best books about Kabul

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Kabul and why they recommend each book.

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Kabul in Winter

By Ann Jones,

Book cover of Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan

Ann Jones’ memoir Kabul in Winter takes the reader inside the lives of Afghan women following the overthrow of the Taliban in the early 2000s. The book includes the necessary tour of Afghanistan’s history taking the reader through major events alongside the more valuable contribution of her time in Kabul. The book’s beauty lies in Jones’ ability to explain the plight of Afghan women in the complex context of entrenched cultural norms and religious beliefs without relying on simplistic Western cliches. We get to understand that there is no easy solution, no quick fix, because the entire society is structured around an uber patriarchy. I loved how her writing didn’t hold back and how her passion shines through along with her anger and despair.

Who am I?

I have lived, breathed, and studied peace and conflict since 1998, but what I’m most passionate about is the plight of the people. I spent over a decade in countries such as Iraq, Sudan, and East Timor providing humanitarian assistance followed by another decade writing and working on the consequences of wars. The more we understand the impact of wars the better humanity will be placed to stop them. That is why I chose five beautifully written books that will be difficult to put down while offering an array of voices and perspectives that together provide insights into how we can better respond to outbreaks of war.

I wrote...

No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis

By Denis Dragovic,

Book cover of No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis

What is my book about?

As an aid worker in war zones around the world, I often wondered what happened to the people and the projects. Did the communities flourish? Were the water plants maintained? Did the second bout of fighting destroy what we built? No Dancing follows my return journey to the site of three major humanitarian crises—South Sudan, Iraq, and East Timor—in search of answers.

Along the way, I engage with young entrepreneurs striving to build their businesses, tribal leaders who give unvarnished views of foreign aid, and former colleagues who continued to serve their community long after the last expatriate had left. Alongside stories of freeing kidnapped colleagues and dealings with ayatollahs and tribal chiefs the book looks behind the façade of Western aid interventions and along the way offers answers to how we can better respond to the global humanitarian crisis.

The Library Bus

By Bahram Rahman, Gabrielle Grimard (illustrator),

Book cover of The Library Bus

The Library Bus offers a glimpse into the importance of mobile libraries, showing how one bus run by a mother and daughter delivers books, school supplies, and lessons to other young girls in Afghanistan. Told of the course of one day, with the bus leaving Kabul in the very early morning and ending at bedtime, the story explains the restrictions women and girls faced under Taliban rule in a clear and age-appropriate way.

Who am I?

Angela Burke Kunkel is an author, school librarian, and former English Language Arts teacher. She has experience working with all types of young readers, from the reluctant to the voracious, and has taught in both alternative and public schools, including a New Mexico middle school with a nationally-recognized dual education program. She is passionate about ensuring equitable book access for all children, and has published articles and participated as a panelist on these issues.

I wrote...

Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built

By Angela Burke Kunkel, Paola Escobar,

Book cover of Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built

What is my book about?

In the city of Bogata, in the barrio of La Nueva Gloria, there live two Joses. One is a boy who dreams of Saturdays– that’s the day he gets to visit Paradise, the library. The second Jose is a garbage collector. From dusk until dawn, he scans the sidewalks as he drives, squinting in the dim light, searching household trash for hidden treasure...books! Some are stacked in neat piles, as if waiting for Jose. Others take a bit more digging.

Ever since he found his first book, Anna Karenina, years earlier, he’s been collecting books–thick ones and thin ones, worn ones and almost new ones– to add to the collection in his home. And on Saturdays, kids like little Jose run to the steps of Paradise to discover a world filled with books and wonder.

Escape from Aleppo

By N.H. Senzai,

Book cover of Escape from Aleppo

When bombs fall on Nadia’s home, she’s separated from her family in the middle of a war. Over the course of a few short, dangerous days, she has to find a way through her destroyed city to her parents. With startling detail, N.H. Senzai captures the frenzy and peril of Nadia’s situation. 

N.H. Senzai also writes wonderful books about Afghan refugees, like Shooting Kabul, but I personally found Escape from Aleppo her best work so far. I read it all in a gulp, and came out with a deeper understanding of what even a tiny slice of the refugee experience can look like.

Who am I?

My sister worked for nine years teaching women in Afghanistan, and the Taliban tried to kill her for it—several times. Back in 2011, I was able to visit her in-country and I fell in love with the kind, brave people and their scarred, stubborn nation. But when my sister was eventually forced to return home, she was not the sister who had left. Refugees told me similar stories; stories about memories that wouldn’t stay quiet even though they were safe. I couldn’t help wondering: How do you rebuild a life after losing everything? My debut book, The Eleventh Trade, became the place I wrestled with that question. 

I wrote...

The Eleventh Trade

By Alyssa Hollingsworth,

Book cover of The Eleventh Trade

What is my book about?

They say you can't get something for nothing, but nothing is all Sami has. When his grandfather’s most-prized possession―a traditional Afghan instrument called a rebab―is stolen, Sami resolves to get it back. He finds it at a music store, but it costs $700, and Sami doesn’t have even one penny. What he does have is a keychain that has caught the eye of his classmate. If he trades the keychain for something more valuable, could he keep trading until he has $700? Sami is about to find out.

The Bookseller of Kabul

By Åsne Seierstad,

Book cover of The Bookseller of Kabul

The widows of Kabul called my wife “Frishta” (Angel). Janna loved working with them and she loves this book. Åsne Seierstad writes about the experiences of Afghan women and their prospects, marriages, hopes, and fears. Seierstad lived with a family dominated by a patriarch who loved books; for which the Taliban, also had a—literally—burning passion.

Who am I?

To stop us from reopening a school for girls, a mob of angry and well-armed Pashtun men threatened to shoot my workers. I surprised myself. “If you are going to shoot my workmen, you will have to shoot me first!” My wife, Janna, and I bred cattle in outback Australia. On the weekends we played tennis. Yet, in 1984 we began a twenty-four-year adventure battling corruption, injustice, and disadvantage in the deserts, mountains, and cities of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I dug wells, built schools, and helped restore the eyesight of thousands of Afghans; until I myself became blind.

I wrote...

Shoot Me First: A Cattleman in Taliban Country. Twenty-Four Years in the Hotspots of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

By Grant Lock,

Book cover of Shoot Me First: A Cattleman in Taliban Country. Twenty-Four Years in the Hotspots of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

What is my book about?

Shoot Me First is a gripping personal account of life in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The author offers intriguing insights into the culture of the tribal territories that straddle the two countries. This is home to the Taliban, an untamed land that continues to absorb so much of the world’s attention and military endeavour. Lock is shrewd and laconic but above all compassionate.

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