I’ve been reading An Unexpected Light by Jason Elliot. Apparently sales of this book skyrocketed after 9/11, which is encouraging. The book is quite literate and very honest. I’m not widely read the travel writing genre, but Elliot’s book falls somewhere between the work of William Dalrymple (whose From the Holy Mountain I highly recommend) and Robert D. Kaplan.
In 1985 Elliot, at nineteen, decided to go to Afghanistan to aid the mujahadeen against the Soviets. The book thus far is quite vague on exactly how he arrived at this decision (no recounting of talks with loved ones on the issue, etc.), but arrive he did. He went back ten years later and found himself at odds with the Taliban. He writes glowingly on the beauty of the country and on the hospitality of ordinary Afghans. It is fortunate that people turned to this book to get perspective on Afghanistan. It portrays Afghans as inheritors of a pround culture and (perhaps most importantly) as human.
Another book on the Afghan-Soviet war that I’m tempted to track down is Radek Sikorski’s Dust of the Saints. Sikorski wrote a fine article on Afghanistan in the aftermath of the US-led invasion for last month’s National Review. See the first bit of it here.