A dog on the loose. A boy yearning to connect to his family’s roots. A country in the midst of great change. And a vibrant exploration of the power of stories—the ones we tell each other and the ones we find ourselves in.
Reviewers Jed and Reina explore Logar, a rural village in Afghanistan, where 12-year-old Marwand is on a mission to find Budabash, the family dog. Along the way, he encounters many stories—from local legends to family and their country’s history, all shared with him a la 1001 Nights. Read more about it below.
Jed says: Peppered throughout the narrative are smaller tales, 1001 Arabian Nights-style. They are always shared orally, and describe all sorts of events, from legends to family history to just plain town gossip. The experiences of Marwand’s family and Afghanistan’s recent war-torn history are woven together by these smaller tales, and by the time Marwand’s own tale comes to its conclusion, the reader might almost feel at home in Logar as well.
Reina says: The story is told in a non-linear fashion, skipping back and forth around Marwand’s 99-day stay. Nestled within the narration are the family’s Tales, each titled and told in the voice of whoever is telling the story. The subjects range from local legend, family anecdotes, to stories of the war and Russian occupation. Oral storytelling like this is part of Arabian tradition; the format is reminiscent of the Middle Eastern classic One Thousand and One Nights, with stories layered one beneath the other, sometimes in multiple strata.
Jed says: Marwand isn’t the audience surrogate that he might seem to be on paper — he knows some of the customs and the language, and he narrates his adventures in Afghanistan in a matter-of-fact way that will prompt some readers to do some research on the side to fully understand the foreign words and terms that he uses. Many times, however, the prose gives enough context to paint a clear enough picture of what’s going on.
Reina says: Arabic words are sprinkled liberally throughout the text – with no translation, and little in the way of context clues to help you guess what they mean. For Arabic-speaking readers, this unadulterated representation of the language is a clear win. For someone on the outside [it can be] frustrating, but also poetic: it’s a lesson in how you can’t expect to learn about a culture by having it distilled into a capsule and spoonfed to you. If you truly want to understand, you have to be willing to put in your due diligence.
Jed says: 99 Nights in Logar is an original spin on a familiar story. It’s about a boy and his adventures, but it’s also a setting so unfamiliar to many that it may very well be alien. It’s the little stories that ultimately ground the book so well — the brief, page-long bursts of humanity that make a new world so believable and relatable. It might take a bit of patience and additional research at first, but 99 Nights in Logar is a satisfying and entertaining read.
Reina says: At the end, 99 Nights in Logar is not really a story about the hunt for a dog, or a boy’s coming of age. It’s about the histories you inherit, the stories that were handed down to you and that you have an obligation to pass on one day so the wisdom within them never dies. You may find your shoes are rather like Marwand’s too; in which case, 99 Nights in Logar invites you to seek the stories of the people you belong to – and what they might mean, wherever you go.
99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]