Afghanistan: travel books to read before you go

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This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Afghanistan guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip.

Afghanistan is blessed with incredibly rich travel literature. Any of the following will help prime you for your trip.

The Sewing Circles of HeratThe Sewing Circles of Herat by Christina Lamb wonderfully stitches together accounts of the author’s time with the mujaheddin (including a young Hamid Karzai) with a return to post-Taliban Afghanistan to produce a beautifully balanced mix of reportage and travel writing.

The Storytellers DaughterThe Storyteller’s Daughter by Saira Shah is a highly evocative memoir of an Afghan journalist raised in Britain examining her roots through the lens of the war against the Russians and the Taliban chaos. Our favourite book on Afghanistan in the past few years.

The Places in BetweenThe Places In Between by Rory Stewart is the account of an incredible journey walking across central Afghanistan in mid-winter, months after the fall of the Taliban. Pensive and well-observed, it’s a great companion for anyone heading for that part of Afghanistan.

Under a Sickle MoonPeregrine Hodson’s Under A Sickle Moon is one of the few ‘travels with the mujaheddin’ books to stand the test of time, a keen account of one corner of the war that’s helped enormously by the author’s fluent Dari and eye for character.

The Road to OxianaOstensibly a quest for the roots of Islamic architecture, The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron is still the best travel book on Afghanistan (and Persia), more than 70 years after it was written. Few characters in the travel literature genre are as memorable as the show-stealing Afghan ambassador to Tehran.

A Short Walk in the Kindu KushA Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby is one of the modern classics of travel writing, describing the misadventures of two Englishmen who trekked to the remote Nuristan region in the 1950s. It has one of the best (and funniest) endings of any travel book.

An Unexpected LightIn An Unexpected Light, Jason Elliot dazzles the reader with a journey around Afghanistan on the eve of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. Elliot displays a sympathetic ear and a keen understanding of the richness of Afghan culture and history.

The Light Garden of the Angel KingThe Light Garden of the Angel King is a scholarly but still colourful account of author Peter Levi’s travels in Afghanistan with Bruce Chatwin in the 1970s. Finely written, with suitably distinguished footnotes.

A Bed of Red FlowersA Bed of Red Flowers by Nelofer Pazira is a lyrical memoir of life growing up in 1970s Kabul, the Soviet occupation and her family’s flight to Pakistan and Canada as refugees. The denouement, in Kabul and Moscow, is highly moving.

Kandahar CockneyKandahar Cockney by James Fergusson takes a different approach to the travel genre, describing the complicated life of an Afghan friend who fled to London as a refugee. A revealing portrait of an under-reported side to recent Afghan history.

West of Kabul, East of New YorkTamim Ansary’s West of Kabul, East of New York is a revealing memoir of growing up in ’50s and ’60s Lashkar Gah and Kabul, and a life lived in the USA, straddling the cultures of his Afghan father and American mother.

Magic BusMagic Bus is Rory Maclean’s witty and engaging retracing of the old Hippy Trail from Istanbul to Kabul and Goa. Looking at the changes in the countries en route and the metamorphosis from spaced-out intrepids to modern backpackers, it’s highly recommended.

More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found here.