Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords, and One Woman’s Journey Through Afghanistan

Fariba Nawa. Harper Perennial, $14.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-193470-4

In this powerful and occasionally tragic account, journalist Nawa returns to Afghanistan, which she fled at the age of nine to escape the Soviet occupation. She spends several years traveling the country to interview Afghans involved in the opium trade, “an all-encompassing market that directly affects the daily lives of Afghans in a way that nothing else does.” Tied to Nawa’s journey is a quest to strengthen her Afghan identity and reconcile it with her American self. Although comforted by her ability to “change nationalities, hiding one and bringing forth another,” she doesn’t feel like she belongs fully to either culture. Nawa draws rich, complex portraits of subjects on both sides of the law, people like Farzana and Nanzaneen, a pair of women training to become drug enforcement agents; Mr. Jawan, a kindly former drug smuggler; and Parween, a female poppy farmer whose crops were destroyed by soldiers because she failed to pay off the right people. A chance meeting with Darya, a 12-year-old girl sold into marriage in order to settle her father’s opium debt, propels the book toward its climax: a search for the girl in one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous regions. Nawa’s work is remarkable for its depth, honesty, and commitment to recording women’s stories, even when it means putting her own safety at risk. She writes with passion about the history of her volatile homeland and with cautious optimism about its future. (Nov.)