This literary crime novel (384 pages) was published in December of 2020 by Soho Crime. The book takes you to 1970s Afghanistan. Melissa read The Opium Prince and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
Our hero Daniel Sajadi is the son of an American woman and a late (great) Afghan war hero. When he returns to 1970s Kabul from Los Angeles, a series of shocking events plunges him into the dark side of life in Afghanistan.
This story is an enticing mash-up of crime novel and political thriller with a whiz-bang opening and steadily rising tension. Dare you to put it down once you’ve started.
Our conflicted hero has been living in Los Angeles but is now in Afghanistan to head up a US foreign aid agency dead set on converting opium poppy fields to food crops.
But on the highway, driving with his wife — on their wedding anniversary — he strikes and kills a young girl from the Kochi nomadic tribe. He’s not only plunged into a canyon of sorrow and guilt, his life is now intertwined with that of an Afghan opium khan. Before he can catch his breath, he’s caught up in a political coup, the dark world of opium trading, and personal intrigue with other Kabul expats, all while wrestling with his insider-outsider status as an Afghan-American.
Author Jasmine Aimaq — Swedish mother, Afghan father — gives us access to Daniel’s internal conflict. We experience the draw and the danger of Kabul through his eyes. The period details are engaging and, to our modern Western experience of Afghanistan, surprising. Women wear high heels, and booze is readily available. Posters for the The Godfather Part II adorn downtown walls. The Taliban has not yet seized control of the minutiae of everyday life. Yet, a cloud of menace, a sense of unease, hangs over it all.
The plot is fleet-footed with sharp set pieces that play out like an action film. But the physical plays out against a rich emotional background. Daniel’s story plumbs the depths of father-son relationships and trust issues. It examines the baggage we haul around with us, no matter how far we run to try to get away from it. It explores guilt and betrayal of trust and second chances and redemption and what happens when good intentions prompt bad actions. And vice versa.
The smells of Kabul greeted them when they reached the city. It was the scent of naan baking in fiery holes in the ground, of fried meat in carts sold to hurried passersby for a coin or two. The stench of donkeys, urine, gasoline, and dust, but also the perfume of the acacia trees and roses people grew in walled-off gardens everywhere. Maiwand Boulevard was closed, barricades forcing cars into detours because a Russian envoy had passed through here and would do so again tonight. His visit was scheduled to last three days. The detour wasn’t well marked, but Daniel knew his way through the city. At the last major intersection before home, on Darlaman Road, the traffic light blinked red, broken since February. — Jasmine Aimaq
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