An unforgettable portrait of a place and a people shaped by centuries of art, trade, and war.
In the middle of the salt-frosted Afghan desert, in a village so remote that Google can’t find it, a woman squats on top of a loom, making flowers bloom in the thousand threads she knots by hand. Here, where heroin is cheaper than rice, every day is a fast day. B-52s pass overhead—a sign of America’s omnipotence or its vulnerability, the villagers are unsure. They know, though, that the earth is flat—like a carpet.
Anna Badkhen first traveled to this country in 2001, as a war correspondent. She has returned many times since, drawn by a land that geography has made a perpetual battleground, and by a people who sustain an exquisite tradition there. Through the four seasons in which a new carpet is woven by the women and children of Oqa, she immortalizes their way of life much as the carpet does—from the petal half-finished where a hungry infant needs care to the interruptions when the women trade sex jokes or go fill in for wedding musicians scared away by the Taliban. As Badkhen follows the carpet out into the world beyond, she leaves the reader with an indelible portrait of fates woven by centuries of art, war, and an ancient trade that ultimately binds the invaded to the invader.
"Like so many pieces of yarn, [Badkhen] weaves the words of Persian poets, Western explorers, contemporary journalists and scholars into her narrative, enriching her own account with those that came before… a powerful, unsentimental study of life persisting in extreme conditions. Perhaps the greatest testament to her success is that, upon reading the final page, the reader wonders how the people populating her narrative are faring, and desperately hopes that they are all right." –The New York Observer
“Capture[s] the fatalistic ambience of a place where opium addiction is rampant, mobile phones are an impossible luxury and the Taliban lurk in the shadows.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Transporting… even in this harshest of environments, Badkhen is able to capture kinship, laughter, and merriment… At the risk of spouting clichés (but don’t they become such because of the universal truths buried within?), Badkhen weaves her own literary magic.” –Christian Science Monitor
“Intrepid… Season by season, rite by rite, encounter by encounter, thread by illuminating thread, Badkhen weaves a glorious prose carpet that poignantly captures the surface and the soul of life in Oqa, and in all the Oqas that grace the loom of Afghanistan.” –National Geographic
"Badkhen makes friends and shares their stories, drawing readers into this small village where the dream of wealth is hope for a life without suffering… A beautifully written book of eternal heartbreak." –Booklist (starred review)
"A fearless author regards the Afghans on their own terms… Enormously detailed and moving… a dense, intimate portrayal of an ancient people.” –Kirkus
"In an age when writers too often see Afghanistan from behind guarded compound walls, Badkhen places herself alone, for a year, in rural Afghanistan. This perspective—animated by her love of the country, and her hosts—yields a remarkable account of the rhythms, the wit, and the energy of village life." –Rory Stewart, author of The Places in Between
"Nearly a hundred and eighty degrees around the globe, and even farther from our imagining, Anna Badkhen captures with an unerring eye—and just as powerfully, in the haunting cadences of her narrative—the strange, harsh beauty of an unvanquished way of life." –William Langewiesche, author of Sahara Unveiled, American Ground, and The Outlaw Sea