A&E » Book Review

Culture clash


On the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, many Americans awoke from a night filled with "what's next" scenarios to a forwarded e-mail from an Afghan American coming to grips with what occurred just hours earlier.

The e-mail -- emphatically stating that Osama bin Laden did not represent the Afghan people -- was originally sent to just 20 friends of the author and quickly forwarded to thousands of Americans in the days after al-Qaeda terrorists slammed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

In his e-mail, Tamim Ansary used the now oft-quoted line, "When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think bin Laden, think Hitler ..."

Ansary's memoir, West of Kabul, East of New York, offers a compelling look at one man's life facing prejudice from both Afghans and Americans. The son of an American mother and Pashtun Afghan father, he lived in Afghanistan until the age of 16, when he moved with his family to the U.S.

Unlike like many of the books on Afghanistan rushed to publication shortly after Sept. 11, West of Kabul, for the most part, is a well-thought-out memoir, with no sense of exploitation. Ansary opens his life for all to see, dissecting even the messiest of family relationships. While Ansary embraced the traditional Western life in the U.S., his younger brother held tightly to his Mid-East roots, becoming a devout Muslim.

Although wrapped in great detail, overall, there are occasions in the book where Ansary fails to follow through with specifics. He can go on for chapters about his love for the woman who will eventually become his wife, but states matter-of-factly that his father left his wife and children behind in the U.S. and moved back to Afghanistan.

And despite the inclusion of the oft-quoted e-mail, Ansary devotes very little of the text to the events of Sept. 11 -- relegating it to an afterthought in the epilogue.

Though marketed as another post-9-11 book tossed out to help Americans understand what happened last year, West of Kabul is simply a fascinating look at one man's life.

West of Kabul, East of New York, By Tamim Ansary. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $22.

Add a comment