• Your top 50 Afghan books

Your top 50 Afghan books

08 May 2012

Bookworms from across the world responded enthusiastically to our call to vote for their favourite books about Afghanistan.

Many votes were cast during our Twitter event on April 23 - World Book Day.  But more have come in since then, with people making recommendations by email or in person.

Shortly after the event we totted up the votes and compiled a list of the eight most popular books, plus two authors nominated for their complete bodies of work.

But that obviously wasn't going to be enough.  So we've now rounded it to a list of your top 50 favourites.  We have had to exclude some books which had fewer votes.  And, for the sake of brevity, we have often mentioned only one or two of those who voted for individual works.  Apologies if we have excluded your choice - or your name!

Your top picks

The Sewing Circles of Herat - Christina Lamb

  • 'The Kite Runner'  by  Khaled Hosseini 
  • 'A Thousand Splendid Suns’  by  Khaled Hosseini
  • ‘Ghost Wars’  by  Steve Coll
  • ‘An Unexpected Light’  by  Jason Elliot
  • ‘The Sleeping Buddha’  by  Hamida Ghafour
  • ‘The Sewing Circles of Herat’  by  Christina Lamb
  • ‘Images of Afghanistan: Exploring Afghan Culture through Art and Literature'  by  Arley Loewen
  • ‘Earth and Ashes’  by  Atiq Rahimi
  • Nominations for bodies of work:  Ahmed Rashid and Nancy Hatch Dupree

Factual - Historical and Political

The Great Game - Peter Hopkirk‘The Great Game'by Peter  Hopkirk, about the 19th century power struggle between Britain and Russia for political supremacy in Central Asia.  Its fans include Rob Antonucci of the International Assistance Mission, who describes it as "a good page turner" andStephen Brown, who says “it puts the current situation in an historical perspective”.

 ‘Butcher and Bolt’ by David Loyn.  A history of foreign engagement in Afghanistan over the past 200 years by a veteran  BBC correspondent.  Recommended by Rita Payne “because it is clear, pacy and explains why the West hasn’t learned from history in Afghanistan”.

Heros of the Age - David Edwards‘Heroes of the Age’ by David Edwards.  Recommended byMartine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN).

‘Taliban’ by Ahmed Rashid.  “A classic” according to Olof Bjornsson. 

‘Descent into Chaos’ by Ahmed Rashid.  Recommendedby Shahand Nur via bbc.co.uk/pashto. 

‘Out of Afghanistan’ by Diego Cordovez and Selig Harrison.  Recommended by Thomas Ruttig of AAN as a “minute-by-minute account of how the Soviet withdrawal was negotiated, with a lot of background.”

Afghanistan Over a Cup of Tea‘An Historical Guide to Afghanistan’ by Nancy Hatch Dupree.  Recommended by"Atnussan" via Twitter.

‘Afghanistan Over a Cup of Tea’ by Nancy Hatch Dupree.  A collection of articles which Lynne Shackles recommends as “thoughtful and insightful”.

‘Three Women of Herat’ by Veronica Doubleday.  Kate Clark of AAN describes it as “A pre-war memoir of women musicians” taken from the author’s life in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion. 

‘The Fall of Afghanistan:  an Insider’s Account’ by Abdul Samad Gaus.  Recommended by Shahand Nur via bbc.co.uk/pashto.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana - Gayle Tzemach Lemmon‘The Dressmaker of Khair Khana’ by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.  This book, about an Afghan woman fighting to support her family during Taliban rule, is among a number recommended by Valerie Ceccherini of Mercy Corps.

‘West of Kabul, East of New York’ by Tamim Ansary.  Nominated by author Arley Loewen  who says he likes this memoir by an American-Afghan author because it isso self-reflective on Afghan culture”

‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ by George Crile.  This book, about the 1980s arming of the mujaheddin, was recommended by Maya Aiesh and journalist Nick Bryant. 

‘A Darkness Visible’ by Seamus Murphy.   Recommended by Simon P. 

 ‘Cables from Kabul’ by Sherard Cowper-Cowles.  Recommended  byLiz Cameron of BAAG

‘Afghanistan’ by Louis Dupree.  Written in the 1970s, it remains a classic.  Recommended by Rob Antonucci of IAM.

Dear Zari - Zarghuna Kargar‘Dear Zari’ - Zarghuna Khargar’scompilation ofAfghan women’s stories as told to her on the BBC’s Afghan Women’s Hour programme.  Recommended by BBC journalist and author Jill McGivering because "it's authentic and honest and gives such an insightful, if sometimes bleak, picture of the challenges Afghan women face".  Also recommended by The Asian Word. 

Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife’ by Shushmita Banerjee.  Based on a true story about a woman’s escape from Afghanistan under the Taliban. Recommended by Reema of BAAG.

Factual - Travel

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush - Eric NewbyRobert Byron’s 1930s travelogue ‘The Road to Oxiana’ was a favourite of both BAAG Trustee Frederick Lyons and  journalist Robert Fox.

Robert Fox also nominated Eric Newby’s ‘A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush’, saying the two men - Robert Byron & Eric Newby - were his “favourite eccentric travellers”.

‘The Road To Balkh’ by Nancy Hatch Dupree was singled out by Bob McMerrow, who added that he likes all of her books because they are “classics that capture a peaceful era I loved”. 

 'The Light Garden of the Angel King' by Peter Levi.  Author Ahmed Rashid was among a number of people recommending this classic travelogue.

The Places In Between - Rory Stewart‘The Places in Between’ by Rory Stewart, cataloguing his 2002 walk across Afghanistan in the months following the toppling of the Taliban.  Recommended by Albert Van Hal of Cordaid and by the Festival of Asian Literature which says it shows “the beauty of the country and the people of Afghanistan”.

‘On the Road to Kandahar: Travels through Conflict in the Islamic World’ by Jason Burke.  Recommended by Albert Van Hal of Cordaid.


Classical works

‘Masnawi Maanawi Mawlana’ by Rumi.  Nominated by Sayed Ishaq Tabib of Kabul by email.

‘Barbur’s  Diaries’ - nominated by Caroline Montagu.


The Bookseller of Kabul - Asne Seierstad‘The Patience Stone’ by Atiq Rahimi.  This novel about one woman’s life in post Taliban Afghanistan is “so honest and non apologetic” according to Zuhra Bahman.

Swallows of Kabul’ by Yasmina Khadra, about the plight of women under the Taliban.  Recommended by Valerie Ceccherini. 

‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ - Åsne Seierstad’s best-seller is recommended by Helen Riddell. 

‘The Wasted Vigil’ by Nadeem Aslam.  An epic novel spanning 30 years of the Afghanistan conflict.  Recommended by the Oxford Research Group.

Graveyard of Empires - Sable & Azaceta‘Graveyard of Empires’ - military comic book treatment of the Afghan war - by Mark Sable and Paul Azaceta was recommended by Ben Z

The Mulberry Empire’ by Philip Hensher.  Recommended by Frederick Lyons.

Caravans’ by James Michener.  Recommended by Rob Antonucci of the International Assistance Mission.'The Far Pavilions' by M. M. Kaye.  Recommended by Stephen Brown.

Non-English language books

Pashto / Dari

‘Afghanistan in the 20th Century’ by Zahir Tanin (in Dari).  Nominated by Rahman Zaeem from Farah Afghanistan via bbc.co.uk/pashto. 

‘Second Saqawe’ by Ismail Youn (in Pashto).  A history of the Afghan mujaheddin, nominated by Elham from Kabul via bbc.co.uk/pashto. 

‘Zhwandi Khatiri’:  “A Pashto book about the contemporary history of Afghanistan through the people who were involved in it” says Feda from Kabul via bbc.co.uk/pashto. 

‘Strategi-ye Amrika dar Afghanistan bad az Taleban’ - nominated by Obaid Ali of the Afghanistan Analysts’ Network. 

‘The Red Army in Afghanistan’ by General Boris Gromov nominated by Jafar in Poland via bbc.co.uk/pashto.


L'usage du monde - Nicolas Bouvier'L’Usage du Monde' by Nicolas Bouvier.  This book, by the man sometimes referred to as “Switzerland’s answer to Jack Kerouac”, is recommended by Frederick Lyons, and by Iris Ruttig of the Afghanistan Analysts’ Network who describes it as “a 1953/54 Geneva to Quetta road trip reportage, with much on Afghanistan”.






Modlitwa o Deszcz - Wojciech Jagielski‘Modlitwa O Deszcz’ by Wojciech Jagielski. Nominated  by Afghan-Dutch poet Shakila Azzizada, who describes it as “a most beautiful, poetic book”.  (Also available in English translation as ‘Praying for Rain’.)





‘Muren i Maimana’ (Maimana Wall) by Gert Holmertz.  Based on the disappearance of Swedish teacher Gunnel Gummeson in Afghanistan in the 1950s.  Suggested by journalist Jan Winter
I väntanpå talibanerna’ (Waiting for the Taliban) by Jesper Huor, based on his interviews with the Taliban.  Also recommended by Jan Winter as “one of the best Swedish books on Afghanistan”.