Confessions of a Kabul kaleidoscope

17th January 2003 at 00:00
West of Kabul, East of New York: an Afghan story By Tamim Ansary Macmillan pound;12.99

Tamim Ansary, a 54-year-old educational writer based in San Francisco, became the unofficial voice of Afghani-Americans on September 12, 2001, when his post-Twin-Towers email was copied around the world. "We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age," he wrote. "Trouble is, that's been done . . . Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering."

This short, passionate memoir was already in progress when Ansary wrote his polemical message, and the current state of the world gives an edge to his analysis of how the Afghanistan where he spent his first 16 years came to resemble "a shattered crystal vase".

A middle child, with a brother who leans towards fundamentalist Islam and a sister who has left Afghan culture behind, he writes as someone "straddling a crack in the earth".

He lovingly describes his childhood in old Kabul with his father, the first dean of Kabul University, and his Finnish-American mother, who taught at Afghanistan's first girls' school.

His father stayed behind when the family moved back to the US. Then the Russians invaded, and he didn't see his father for 17 years. He set out to travel through the Islamic world in the late 1970s, but revolution in Iran forced him to stop in Turkey. Since then he has taken on the role of concerned US observer, raising funds for refugees and producing children's information books. His compelling narrative concludes: "I am a kaleidoscope of parts now, and so is Afghanistan."

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