WEST OF KABUL, EAST OF NEW YORK: An Afghan American Journey
Any carping about this being an instant book should be quelled when readers actually encounter Ansary's considered prose—prose he himself contrasts to the e-mailed commentary he fired off on September 12 that found its way to millions of readers around the world (including FSG editorial). The e-mail, printed here in an appendix, included such comments as "When you think 'Taliban,' think 'Nazis.' When you think 'Bin Laden,' think 'Hitler.' And when you think 'the people of Afghanistan,' think 'the Jews in the concentration camps.' " Ansary, the son of a Pashtun Afghan father and Finnish-American mother, lived as a Muslim outside of Kabul until the early '60s, when he left on scholarship to attend an American high school, eventually going on to college and becoming an educational writer ("if you have children, they have probably read or used some product I have edited or written") with a family of his own in San Francisco. This book chronicles, with calm insight and honesty, Ansary's feelings at all points: his childhood spent within his "clan" ("our group self was just as real as our individual selves, perhaps more so"), a narrative of his often fascinating 1980 trip ("Looking for Islam") throughout the Muslim world that makes up the bulk of the book, and dissections of the differing paths taken by his sister, brother and himself. While Ansary's political insights can be detached—or perhaps purposefully aloof—his descriptions of having lived in and identified alternately with the West and the Islamic world are utterly compelling. (Apr.)
Forecast:Ansary made the rounds of talk shows after September 11 and should be in for another stint upon publication. Look for a bestselling run that will be partially correlated, unfortunately, with the level of fighting in Afghanistan.