If I asked you for the best books to read about Afghanistan, what would you say?
I imagine you’d recommend Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner.
Or maybe the Essential Rumi by sufi poet Rumi who was born in what’s now considered Afghanistan.
Many other reads are books on war in Afghanistan.
Of course, it’s impossible to ignore a war that lasted for decades. It left deep imprints on the Afghan people’s social, political, and economic life. A country ravaged by conflict and troubled by terrorists always has many stories under its folds. It’s the writers’ job, particularly fiction writers, to tell how they experienced the war trauma and what stories they tell.
But there’s more than the Afghan war.
Afghanistan has rugged mountains, deserts, and ancient cities like Balkh, Herat (a part of Silk Roads), and Kabul. These places were once the center of literature and gave birth to many literary personalities. The modern Afghanistan literary scene is no different. Many fiction and nonfiction writers have written about the country’s beauty, history, and culture.
If you are curious about this fascinating land, we have curated a list of the top 10 books about Afghanistan.
Reading the best books about Afghanistan can offer a unique perspective on the country’s rich history, culture, and current events. It can also provide insights into the country’s unique traditions and struggles, and help you gain a deeper understanding of the Afghan people.
By reading books about Afghanistan, you can broaden your knowledge and perspective on a country that has been the focus of global attention for decades.
Afghanistan has a rich literary tradition that dates back centuries. The country’s literature reflects its complex history, diverse culture, and unique traditions. From poetry and folk tales to modern novels and memoirs, Afghan literature is a treasure trove of stories that provide insights into the country’s past and present.
One of the most famous examples of Afghan literature is the poetry of Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet who was born in what is now Afghanistan. His work is eminent around the world for its spiritual depth and universal themes.
Other notable Afghan poets include Khwaja Abdullah Ansari, who lived in the 11th century and known for his mystical poetry. And Abdul Rahman Pazhwak, a contemporary poet who writes about love, war, and the human condition.
Folk tales and legends have been passed down through generations, and many of these stories have been collected into books. One of the most famous collections of Afghan folk tales is “The Adventures of Amir Hamza,” a series of stories about a legendary hero that has been popular for centuries.
In recent years, Afghan literature has gained international recognition, thanks in part to writers like Khaled Hosseini, whose novels “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” have become bestsellers around the world. These novels explore the lives of ordinary Afghans and offer a powerful portrayal of the country’s recent history.
From real-life accounts of war and conflict in a compelling work of fiction, these books offer a glimpse into the country’s culture, history, and people. The list includes the Best Books by Afghanistan Authors.
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is one of the best novels by Afghan authors, and the story revolves around two Afghan women, Rahima and her great-aunt Shekiba. Both characters live a century apart but are bound by the cultural practice of “bacha posh,” in which girls dress as boys or men to enjoy freedom and opportunities within the patriarchal society.
Rahima, living in modern-day Afghanistan, faces a life of poverty and trouble for female education. When her father makes her a “bacha posh,” she attends school and experiences the world beyond the boundaries of her home. However, she will have to confront limitations as she grows older. Her great-aunt’s story, set a century earlier. It follows the same discourse, albeit with more rigidity, and her different confrontations with society.
It is one of the best books by Afghan authors with its compelling storytelling. As it also portrayed of Afghan culture, and a depiction of women’s lives. The novel discusses broad themes such as gender inequality, the impact of war on families, and the struggle for self-determination. These ideas made it one of the best books to read in 2023.
Nadia Hashimi was born to Afghan parents and grew up in the United States. However, due to her parents’ upbringing, she maintained a connection to her Afghan roots through family and community. Besides being a novelist, she practices pediatrician.
Nadia Hashimi published her first novel, “The Pearl That Broke Its Shell,” in 2014, exploring Afghan women’s lives. Since then, she has written other novels such as “When the Moon Is Low,” “A House Without Windows,” and “The Sky at Our Feet.” Her novels focus on cultural identity, immigrants’ struggles, and women’s resilience and strength in adversity. Undoubtedly, Nadia Hashimi is one of the best Afghan writers of contemporary times. And The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is one of the best books about Afghanistan women.
“The Kite Runner” is another famous novel by Khaled Hosseini. The novel is a magnum opus as it discusses the fall of the monarchy to the rise of the Taliban. It follows the life of Amir, the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant, and his relationship with his best friend and servant, Hassan, who belongs to the marginalized Hazara ethnic group. The novel explores friendship, betrayal, redemption, and past decisions’ impact on present lives.
Marc Forster adapted “The Kite Runner” into a feature film, and starring Khalid Abdalla as Amir. Are looking for an emotional weekend watch or the best books by Afghan authors to read? Then The Kite Runner is the answer to both.
Khaled Hosseini is a famous novelist of Afghan origin. He is famous for bestselling novels such as “The Kite Runner,” “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” and “And the Mountains Echoed.” He was born in Afghanistan and later moved to the United States with his family
Hosseini’s debut novel ‘The Kite Runner’ is an international bestseller and one of the best critically acclaimed works of fiction by Afghan fiction authors. His novels highlight the strength and resilience of Afghan people in the face of adversity and explore the effects of war on Afghanistan. In 2008, the American Academy of Achievement awarded him with the Golden Plate Award. He is one of the best Afghan fiction authors of modern times.
“And the Mountains Echoed” is one of the best books about the Afghanistan War, published in 2013. The novel has a main character, an Afghan father, Saboor, whose life circumstances force him to sell his daughter Pari to a wealthy family in Kabul so that the struggling family can make a living. This event is preceded by interconnected stories that unfold across decades in multiple locations, from Afghanistan to Greece, France, and the United States.
There are many characters in the novel whose lives intersect and whose decisions have far-reaching consequences. One of the best Afghan novels in Afghanistan literature with master storytelling and emotional depth. As the novel discusses the complexities of human relationships, the sacrifices made for loved ones, and the robust ties that bind families together.
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“The Favored Daughter: One Woman’s Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future” is a memoir by Afghan women writer and political Fawzia Koofi. She talks about her life journey and experiences growing up in a polygamous family. How she got her education by being strong-willed? And what are her determination to make a difference in the lives of fellow Afghan women?
As the book was published in 2012, she shares her experiences as a Member of Parliament and her struggles as a political authority for women’s rights, education, and social justice. During her political tenure, she faced many death threats and assassination attempts. One of the best books by Afghan authors, full of courage and resilience, and inspires hope among women.
Fawzia Koofi is an Afghan politician and women’s rights activist. After her education in Afghanistan, she initially worked for UNICEF. Alongside her activism, she actively participated in politics, and in 2005, she became the first woman to be elected as the Second Deputy Speaker of the Afghan Parliament.
Fawzia Koofi is known for her memoir, which recounts her extraordinary life journey from a disadvantaged childhood to her rise as a prominent political leader and women’s rights activist.
“99 Nights in Logar” was published in 2019. The novel revolves around the Afghan province of Logar and a young boy Marwand, who returns to Afghanistan with his family from the United States. When he arrives, a family dog Budabash bites him, which makes him start questioning his identity, and where he belongs. Eventually, he and his cousins travel to the Afghan countryside to meet many people and hear stories of Afghan history, culture, and folklore.
The novel, discusses the Afghan cultural identity against the backdrop of the war. 99 Nights in Logar is one of the best books by Afghan authors. Jamil Jan Kochai was awarded O. Henry Award for his debut novel.
Jamil Jan Kochai is an Afghan-American writer born in Pakistan in 1992 to Afghan parents. Later, the Kochai family moved to the United States. And since then, Jamil Jan Kochai has lived and written fiction and op-eds for American newspapers.
Jamil Jan Kochai’s work is about the experiences of Afghan immigrants, cultural identity, and the impact of war on the Afghan community. His debut novel, “99 Nights in Logar,” was widely appreciated for its unique amalgam of folklore, history, and contemporary life in Afghanistan.
Kochai’s work regularly appears in literary journals and magazines, such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. His New Yorker short stories are: Occupational Hazards, The Attack of Haji Hotak, and Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
The Patience Stone novel revolves around the life of an Afghan woman during a time of war and turmoil. The woman character is nameless and is left with no choice but to look after her comatose husband when he is injured in battle. As her husband lies motionless, the woman reveals her deepest thoughts, fears, and desires to him, treating him like a “patience stone”. Hence the name of the novel is attributed to a mythical object. It also absorbs the burdens and secrets of those who confide in it.
Through the stories and experiences of the nameless woman, Ahmed Rashid gives deep insights into her struggles and represents many Afghan women who have endured similar hardships. If you want to read books about Afghan women, this novel gives you many answers about Afghan women’s issues.
Atiq Rahimi is an Afghan-born French writer and filmmaker. Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Rahimi moved to France during the Soviet Union and Afghanistan’s conflict. Although living an asylum life in Franc, Rahimi’s work revolves around his homeland Afghanistan. And he also explores its culture, history, and social issues.
The novels written by Atiq Rahimi have also been adapted into movies by him. For example, he directed “The Patience Stone” and “Earth and Ashes” and wrote screenplays. He was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 2008 for his novel, “The Patience Stone.”
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“I Am a Bacha Posh: My Life as a Woman Living as a Man in Afghanistan” provides a unique and insightful look into the life of a woman who grew up as a “bacha posh’. In the book, Ukmina shares her childhood experiences when her parents raised her as a boy to protect their family. As a pretend-boy, she attended school, played sports, and participated in the community, which otherwise would have been impossible as a girl.
She saw the Soviets invading her country, the civil war when the Soviets left, and the rise of the Taliban. As one of the best books by Afghan authors, it is full of first-hand experiences of both the Soviet Union and the American invasions. And how both indirectly contributed to the extremism of society.
Ukmina Manoori is an Afghan activist and author born in 1975 in the Wardak province of Afghanistan. She is a woman, but she was raised as a boy by her parents during the Soviet Union invasion to protect her and access to the privileges that come with having a boy in a patriarchal society. The practice of raising girls as boys in Afghan society is known as “bacha posh.”
Ukmina Manoori published her memoir, “I Am a Bacha Posh: My Life as a Woman Living as a Man in Afghanistan,” co-written with French journalist Stephanie Lebrun. You can include it in your list of memoirs by Afghan women writers list.
“The Opium Prince” is a debut novel by Jasmine Aimaq. The novel is set in the 1970s tumultuous political climate and explores the complexities of the opium trade. The novel revolves around the main character, Daniel Sajadi, a young Afghan-American who returns to Afghanistan to spearhead a U.S. government-funded effort to eradicate the opium trade.
The mission faces a setback when Daniel accidentally kills a young nomad girl in a car accident, leading to a chain reaction. Daniel then gets entangled in a dangerous web of intrigue and deception involving powerful warlords, drug traffickers, and political unrest. The novel’s compelling narrative and exploration of social and political issues make it a must-read for thriller fiction enthusiasts by Afghan women writers.
Jasmine Aimaq was born in Germany to an Afghan father and a Swedish mother. At the age of four, she moved to Afghanistan with her parents and attended a French school in one of the posh areas of Kabul. The family later immigrated to the United States amid deteriorating security after the War on Terror.
Aimaq published her first novel, “The Opium Prince,” in 2020, which was in Washington Post’s 10 books to read list.
Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1979.
In the larger context, the war was a Cold War between two powers, America and the Soviets. Eventually, the Soviet Union collapsed and withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.
America invaded Afghanistan again in 2001 in the ‘War on Terror’ after the terrorists attacked World Trade Center in America. Ultimately, the United States Armed Forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 2021.
It’s difficult to understate the devastating impact of these conflicts on Afghanistan. Although many of the novels above are not books on war in Afghanistan, several are heavily influenced by it.
Although I prefer to focus on Afghanistan’s beauty, long history, and culture, we can’t ignore the conflicts. I therefore decided to include two books on war in Afghanistan for those who want to improve their understanding.
“A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice” is an autobiographical book and is one of the best books about Afghanistan girls. Malalai Joya talks about her experiences as a female education teacher. She was under the oppressive Taliban regime about how she educated girls.
As a member of the Afghan Parliament, she talks about her reasons for being suspended from parliament because of her criticism of corruption and warlordism. Overall, she talks about the challenges faced by Afghan women. The impact of war, and the courage it takes to stand up against powerful and oppressive forces. The book should be on your shelf if you are thinking of reading the best book about Afghanistan women.
Malalai Joya is an Afghan human rights activist and a former member of the Afghan Parliament. She grew up as a refugee in Iran and Pakistan due to the Soviet-Afghan War. And then she moved to Afghanistan during the Taliban’s rule. She mainly works on women’s rights and education.
Malalai Joya represened her province Farah in Afghan Parliament, during the Hamid Karzai government. She has received awards for her activism, such as Gwangju Prize for Human Rights and the Anna Politkovskaya Award in 2016. After the takeover by the Taliban, she has now taken refuge programme in Spain.
Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia was published in 2000. The book provides an in-depth analysis of the rise and rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan. And the broader context of Islamic militancy and geopolitical interests in Central Asia.
The book traces the Taliban’s emergence after the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. Ahmed Rashid discusses the Taliban’s ideological roots, funding structure, and how they consolidate power by spreading fear.
The books also discuss how the Taliban took over in the late 1990s and what role Pakistan and Iran played in the political landscape of Afghanistan. Also, how the United States shifted its policy toward the Taliban after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union makes it one of the best books on the Afghan War. This is a great read if you’re looking for books on war in Afghanistan.
Although Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist and author, he is also a complete authority on in-depth analysis of politics and conflict in Afghanistan. His work regularly appears in prominent newspapers around the globe.
Ahmed Rashid’s book “Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia” is one of the best books about the Afghan War. It became one of the first-hand authoritative books on Taliban and Afghanistan and was widely consulted.
There are many excellent books about Afghanistan that offer a unique perspective on the country’s complex history, culture, and current events.
Besides the names above, “The Bookseller of Kabul” by Asne Seierstad is a non-fiction account of a bookseller and his family in post-Taliban Afghanistan. While “The Swallows of Kabul” by Yasmina Khadra is a novel that offers a powerful portrayal of life under the Taliban regime.
Plus, “The Dancing Girls of Lahore” by Louise Brown is a non-fiction account of the lives of prostitutes in Pakistan. It provides a fascinating glimpse into the complex social and cultural dynamics of the region.
The best books by Afghan authors are available in a variety of genres, including fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, and historical accounts. Fiction books offer a powerful way to explore the lives of Afghan people through the lens of storytelling. While non-fiction books provide a more factual account of events, people, and culture.
Memoirs offer a more personal perspective, often written by people who have lived in Afghanistan or have a deep connection to the country. Historical accounts provide a glimpse into Afghanistan’s rich past. And its complex relationship with neighboring countries and the broader international community.
Yes, there are books about Afghanistan that are suitable for children, such as “The Breadwinner” by Deborah Ellis. It tells the story of a young girl in Kabul who disguises herself as a boy to support her family after the Taliban arrested her father.
“Nasreen’s Secret School” by Jeanette Winter is another children’s book that explores the importance of education in Afghanistan. While “The Boy and the Bindi” by Vivek Shraya is a picture book that introduces children to the cultural significance of the bindi in South Asian culture. These books can help children learn about Afghanistan and its people in an age-appropriate way.
Despite the challenges faced by Afghanistan in recent decades, its literary tradition remains strong. Afghan writers continue to produce powerful works that offer insights into the country’s complex history and culture, and offer hope for a brighter future.
The books listed in this article provide a unique insight into the lives and experiences of the Afghan people. As they offer a window into the country’s culture, history, and the challenges faced by the Afghan people.
By reading these best books by Afghan authors, you will better understand how conflicts shapes the country and the many layers of a complex society. Whether you like to read books by Afghan authors, or nonfiction books about Afghanistan, our list includes all. If you have any other suggestions about books about Afghanistan, we would like to see them in the comment section.
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