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4.1 out of 5 stars
24
4.1 out of 5 stars
The Wasted Vigil
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Price:£5.03


on 19 July 2017
I found the book very harrowing to read and was ashamed I didn't know much about Afghanistan and its history.However I found myself sneaking upstairs to read it when ever I got the chance.I am still thinking about the characters and the storyline so therefore I gave it 4 stars.
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Now a total fan of Nadeem Aslam. Yhis novel got under the skin of American intervention in Afghanistan, and the contradictions (and sometimes horrors it produced alongside the previous USSR intervention, without in any way letting the Taliban and other Muslim extremists off the hook). A truly remarkable achievement by an 'insider'.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 December 2013
I found Nadeem Aslam's 2008 novel astonishing. Not just because of the information that it provides about everyday life and death in Afghanistan, a subject that has not been far from the headlines over the last decade or so.

The author recounts a complex story revolving around three people, Marcus, Lara and David, who have each suffered through their connection to Afghanistan. Marcus Caldwell, an elderly English doctor now living alone in Tora Bora, has lost his Afghan wife (another doctor) and daughter, Qatrina and Zameen, to violence. Lara. a Russian, arrives at his house in searching for her brother, Benedikt, who deserted from the Soviet army in the 1980s. David is a jewel dealer who knows the country, has contacts and, having lost his brother in Vietnam, is unremittingly anti-Communist.

The author slowly reveals the background of these people, everyday life in the country in Usha, near Jalalabad, its countryside, the abandoned underground perfume factory with a huge buried Buddha's head, a lake, minefields, mortared roofs and walls damaged by shells and bullets. Other characters are drawn in, Dunia, a local teacher being forced from her job by the Taleban and Casa, an orphaned jihadi, whose training in Kashmir removed any independent thought but left a quietness that merely heightens his blinkered depravity and twisted ideology.

Marcus' Islamic calligraphy decorated (or desecrated as the Taleban see it) with animals and he is duly punished by having his left hand amputated. This must be done by a doctor to avoid the victim bleeding to death and Qatrina is ordered to officiate. The couple were married by a woman as this was not forbidden by the Koran; many years later the Taleban punish her for adultery. These are just two of many distressing scenes that sweep across killings, rapes, amputations and torture, which are inflicted on Russian, Afghan, Pakistani combatants and non-combatants, `butterfly' mines that look like toys lure and maim, not kill, children.

Lara, recently widowed, let her feet point toward Mecca while sleeping in a crowd of travelers was battered with a tyre iron. She finds out that her long-lost brother has raped Zameen before being killed in a game of buzkashi, particularly unpleasant. Zameen survived, gave birth to a child and, later, fell in love with David. When he abandons her, she was forced to prostitute herself to fund her son's medical treatment.

The author's repetitions emphasise the inevitability of violence in a country that has known very few years of peace "Men lost in long-forgotten ambushes. Men lost in falling B52 bombers. Men last seen alive in the hands of their captors'. "A spike driven through the pages of history, a spike through the pages of love, a spike through the sacred". These spikes hold the pair's books to the ceiling having been hammered in by Qatrina, maddened by her husband's amputation.

There are occasions when the writing becomes too florid, as if the author has become carried away with his story. But there is also great tenderness, as when Dunia and Casa, attracted to one another, tentatively seek to put their pasts behind them. If only Casa, `feeling tired of walking the endless road of his life, of absorbing the body blows as and when they were dealt and staggering on' had not been orphaned with the jihadis and been indoctrinated, he might have had a chance in life.

We see warlords, intent on fighting one another once external threats are removed, and the Taleban receiving arms from the West to use against the Russians. Whilst US operators use a blowtorch to remove an Afghan's eye, in the Gulf distinguished clergymen were ruling that `under Islamic law a man can divorce his wife through SMS text messaging'.

One point: the author is surely incorrect to write: "the religion of Islam at its core does not believe in the study of science". Jim Al-Khalili's "Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science", 2010, shows the opposite. It is religious fundamentalism, Islamism not Islam, that clouds objective and rational thinking, and produces a mindset unfavourable towards scientific inquiry and its central tenet, questioning received wisdom.

This awful but insightful book will cause its readers to understand better the latest `news from our correspondent in Afghanistan'.
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on 10 July 2013
Eastern perfumes, exotic flora, ancient manuscripts, gigantic statues, extinct nightingales, dark haired women, all mixed in with mutilations, wife-killing mullahs, beheading, beards and of course enlightened foreigners. This is orientalist kitsch at its best.
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on 24 August 2009
The beauty of this book depends on the landscapes and works of arts painted with words of utmost skill. The horror of this book is the history of recent decades in Afghanistan, told through several stories, representing all parties that put their fingers into the meager pie there - with good or evil intentions, but with equally tragic consequences. As a novel, it is amazing. As a message, it is terrifying in that it leaves no hope for the future. It seems that all that was beautiful will vanish sooner or later, and even the beauty of some characters has been created by the author as an embellishment, to be admired, but not to be believed.
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on 24 September 2009
This is one of the most gut wrenchingly powerful novels I've ever read. Some passages were so affecting I had to look away from the page for a while. I haven't read any of this author's work before, and I'm so glad to have discovered him.

The Wasted Vigil really is fiction at its very best. A complex story weaving together the tales of a rich cast of characters. A setting so vividly described you can see, smell and hear it. The emotion behind the writing is strong, the writing itself is lyrical without being overwrought.

I can't praise this book enough. It's the best novel I've read in years, and it's one that I'll think about for a long, long time.
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on 31 October 2009
This is a beautifully written, complex novel, that using memory, and some truly beautiful imagery weaves a tale of Afghanistan that is really quite unforgettable. Often sad and brutal, the story of Marcus Caldwell - who lives in an old perfume fctory - and the people who arrive at his house sometimes makes the reader want to look away, and yet you read on, for the stories are compelling. We have Lara, the Russian woman searcing for her brother who went missing during the Afghan Soviet war,and the American's David, and James, the young Afghan teacher, and a young man who has been trained by Al-Qaeda. We are used to hearing about Afghanistan these days, we have all seen the news, many of us have read "The Kite Runner" "A thousand Splendid Suns" and "The bookseller of Kabul" but if you only ever read one book about Afghanistan, then this should be the one. There are no clear lines in this novel, no definite "goodies" or "badies" what we have instead are simple human beings, affected by the various wars that Afghanistan has endured, sometimes these people do bad things, sometimes good things and sometimes these people suffer horribly, and there are reasons why the bad things happen and people suffer, although utlimately while understanding that, it leaves a rather bitter taste, because there is no real feeling of hope for the future. Unforgettable.
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on 17 August 2009
This book is stunning and brutal in equal measure. Rarely have I read a book that has presented such a desperately sad outlook for its main characters, yet has continued to keep me gripped until the very end. Afghanistan's tragic history manifests itself in the lives of the central protagonists - some only present in the memories of those still living, others symbolising a future that is by no means more hopeful than the past.

It's a luminous, poetic narrative, but a strong enough story to keep me turning the pages in anticipation of what might happen next. I rate this alongside the Kite Runner - and well ahead of A Thousand Splendid Suns.
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on 28 April 2009
Nadeem Aslam wrote an excellent second novel, "Maps for lost lovers", about bigotry and superstition in a Pakistani family in Northern Britain. Now he has completely botched his third, maybe because his ambitions were too great. Here he tries to picture Afghanistan, as the place in today's world where ignorance-driven violence is at its worst. His tale is duly full of sound and fury, complete with horror-movie gory details at almost every page, but lacks significance. Both perpetrators and victims remain hard to understand. Most of all, you don't make tragedies out of victims that just stay there, waiting for being slain.
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on 29 March 2010
I was recommended this book by a friend. The cover is plastered with rave reviews so my expectations were perhaps too high. Having read a lot about Afghanistan and the American/UN war there I found the content and historical background fascinating and it reinforced what I had read before. But I'm afraid I could not suspend disbelief in the plot and none of the characters came alive for me except perhaps for Casa, the boy who was brought up and indoctrinated in a Madrassa and Dunia, the young woman schoolteacher who makes fleeting contact with him. The plot is very complex with much use of flashbacks and this works quite well. But for me, the constant diversions into philosophical and artistic reverie seem contrived and detract from the content. It is as if the author is trying to show how clever and erudite he is. So in summary, interesting, revealing, well researched and horrific as far as what is happening on the ground and the historical/cultural background is concerned. It is worth reading for that alone if you can ignore the whimsy.
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