I just completed an amazing book called Come Back to Afghanistan by Said Hyder Akbar, a 17 year old teenager from California. For anyone interested in the current state of Afghanistan, I highly recommend this book.
Books like this, i.e. personal accounts of a foreign and politically relevant land, are typically written by seasoned news reporter type folks, or other adults who already have a solid world view. Witnessing Hyder, a youthful teen, struggle to make sense of this world, often through colorful pop culture references, is so unique. In addition, I've always been fascinated by the recent history of Afghanistan. I was similarly glued to Soldiers of God, by Robert Kaplan, a detailed account of his experiences with the Soviet fighting Mujahideen. Perhaps it is the vivid descriptions of these rugged mountain war zones, places like the Khyber Pass or the Hindu Kush, that get to me. I'm also always interested in understanding the forces of tribalism, especially in South Asia.
Anyway, back to the book, not sure exactly how it happened, but somehow Hyder was given a microphone and recorder by Susan Burton who ultimately produced a show for This American Life, the NPR radio show hosted by Ira Glass. You can listen to the complete This American Life episode HERE. This show kicked off much of what appears in more vivid detail in the book. You can also buy the book on Amazon HERE.
Here's a snippet from a Publisher's Weekly review on Come Back to Afghanistan:
Akbar's refreshingly unsentimental reminiscences of visiting his father's homeland as a teen make for an intriguing portrait of Afghanistan at a time of significant transition. On 9/11, Akbar, who was born in Peshawar in 1984 but grew up in the U.S., was living near Oakland, Calif., where his father ran a clothing store. After the attack, the elder Akbar, a descendant of an Afghan political family, returned to his country to take a job as President Hamid Karzai's chief spokesman and, later, as governor of Kunar, a rural province. The author visited his father for three successive summers, and the result is this account, a closeup view of the creation of the country's post-Taliban democratic government, told from a perspective that's impressively both insider and objective. Akbar reports on chats with cabinet ministers and warlords, and sketches the lay of the land, visiting both sumptuous Kabul palaces as well as bombed-out villages. His youth and curiosity send him on some dangerous adventures (he retraces a mountain route between Afghanistan and Pakistan used by fleeing members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban), and that youthful flavor also infuses the writing with a hip stream-of-consciousness that is by turns funny, insightful and, occasionally, breathtaking.
All in all, I give this book 4 out of 4 stars.