cover image The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories

The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories

Jamil Jan Kochai. Viking, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-29719-3

In this captivating collection, Afghan writer Kochai (99 Nights in Logar) paints intimate portraits of Afghans and Afghan Americans. In turns amusing and devastating, the stories are rich with vivid scenes and distinct narrative voices, and are mostly set in California or Logar. “Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain,” told in an engaging second-person narration, follows a teenage boy in California who plays video game set during the Soviet-Afghan War in order to connect with his father, a former mujahid. In “Enough,” an aging woman reflects on her past as she loses her grip on reality. “Occupational Hazards” tells an Afghan man’s life story in the form of a CV, with overlapping pastoral experiences chronicled under “Shepherd” and “Grade School Student” in Logar in the 1960s and ’70s giving way to a harrowing stint under “Mujahid” from 1980 – 1981 (“Duties included: transporting a rewired Soviet bomb that had landed in the center of Hajji Alo’s compound without exploding; avoiding Communist kill squads and Soviet airpower”), and culminating with a beautiful reveal. Many of these stories end in violence or tragedy, but on the whole, the collection is far from repetitive; the range of framing and styles keeps the reader on their toes and delivers emotional impact in one hard-hitting entry after another. Readers won’t want to miss this. Agent: Jin Auh, Wiley Agency. (July)