cover image My Pen Is the Wing of a Bird: New Fiction by Afghan Women

My Pen Is the Wing of a Bird: New Fiction by Afghan Women

18 Afghan Women. Grand Central, $25 (242p) ISBN 978-1-5387-2682-2

This revelatory anthology of stories grew out of the Write Afghanistan project, which connected editors and translators to Afghan writers, many of whom use pseudonyms to protect their safety. Though a handful of entries are inspired by news events (a suicide bombing, the destruction of a girls’ school), most show glimpses into the day-to-day lives of Afghan women and girls, taking place against the backdrop of four decades of conflict, with episodes of violence happening just outside the frame. The cleverness with which women find ways to subvert oppression and assert their own independence is a theme that runs through several stories, including the exceptional “Ajah” by Fatema Khavari, translated from the Dari by Zubair Popalzai, whose heroine’s story carries the heft of folklore. “My Pillow’s Journey of Eleven Thousand, Eight Hundred and Seventy-Six Kilometres” by Farangis Elyassi, also translated by Popalzai, tackles the heartache of migration in ways both humorous and mournful, while others, such as “Haska’s Decision” by Rana Zurmaty, translated from the Pashto by Shekibo Habib, illustrate the toll of illiteracy. The stories vary considerably in literary quality, but taken together they form a remarkable portrait of lives largely invisible to readers outside Afghanistan. This brims with humanity. (Oct.)