“Nawa deftly sketches the geopolitical nightmare that is today’s Afghanistan, but the book’s real strength is her detailed, sensitive reporting of individual people’s stories.” — Boston Globe An Afghan-American journalist offers a revealing look inside a country torn apart—from corrupt officials to warlords and child brides—while revisiting her own family’s deep roots to the land. Afghan-American journalist Fariba Nawa delivers a revealing and deeply personal explorationof Afghanistan and the drug trade which rules the country, from corruptofficials to warlords and child brides and beyond. KhaledHosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns calls Opium Nation “an insightful andinformative look at the global challenge of Afghan drug trade. Fariba Nawa weaves her personalstory of reconnecting with her homeland after 9/11 with a very engagingnarrative that chronicles Afghanistan’s dangerous descent into opiumtrafficking…and most revealingly, how the drug trade has damaged the lives ofordinary Afghan people.” Readers of Gayle Lemmon Tzemach’s The Dressmaker of Khair Khana and Rory Stewart’s The Places Between will find Nawa’spersonal, piercing, journalistic tale to be an indispensable addition to thecultural criticism covering this dire global crisis.
Fariba Nawa, an award-winning Afghan-American journalist, covers a range of issues and specializes in immigrant and Muslim communities in the United States and abroad. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area but has traveled extensively to the Middle East and South Asia. She lived and reported from Afghanistan from 2002 to 2007, and witnessed the U.S.-led war against the Taliban and al Qaeda. She has also reported from Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, and Germany. She has a master’s in Middle Eastern studies and journalism.
Her work has appeared in the Sunday Times of London, Foreign Affairs, Daily Beast, Newsday, Mother Jones, The Village Voice, The Christian Science Monitor and numerous other publications. She also reports for radio, including National Public Radio (NPR). She is the author of the groundbreaking report, Afghanistan, Inc., (CorpWatch, May 2006 ) and a contributing writer in the anthology Under the Drones: Modern Lives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Borderlands (Harvard University Press, May 2012). Her essays have also been published in two other books, March to War and Women for Afghan Women.
Opium Nation is an excellent book. Fariba Nawa is a superb journalist. Yes, I mean both of those superlatives. I've read some of Nawa's U.S.-based journalism about Muslims in this country, and it's original. For instance, she wrote about how some mosques are not segregating women and are giving them a bigger role. The picture in Afghanistan is not so pretty. Nawa, whose family fled when the Russians were dropping bombs on her city (one hit her elementary school), grew up in the United States but always missed Afghanistan. In her 20s she went back to a country that had been devastated by war. She was willing to wear a burqa when necessary to learn about her people. One overwhelming fact she learned was that opium smuggling is pervasive and drug lords, who come from every faction, are incredibly powerful. Taliban are drug smugglers. Warlords are drug smugglers. Government officials are drug smugglers. And they cooperate with each other in selling drugs. Afghanistan was not always like that. Some farmers cultivated opium poppies, often for medicinal purposes. But war devastated the land, and the soil became so depleted that poppies were almost the only crop that could be grown. Opium is the livelihood of poor farmers. And often they become indebted to drug lords. Then the drug lords may take their daughters as child brides. Nawa endured many hardships and took incredible personal risks to tell this story. She says there are no easy solutions. Programs to plant alternative crops may fail because corrupt officials drain off the money. This book certainly portrays the difficult lives of women in Afghanistan as well as the drug trade. Nawa came back to the United States, and now lives in Turkey, but Afghanistan is still close to her heart.
Do you want to know what is going on in Afghanistan? So does everyone. Even folks who live in Afghanistan want to know what the hell is going on. Fariba Nawa was born in Afghanistan and moved to the US when the Soviets tried to take over the country in 1979. She is now a journalist who has traveled back to new country and the remains of her memory of that country. Opium Nation is the rare non fiction book that is both a general history of a region and a specific history of a woman returning to land that she does not recognize and one who's men do not recognize her as nothing more than property that has not been claimed, and therefore unholy. The general history follows the military and political but entwined with both, and life in Afghanistan, is the cultivation, production and distribution of opium. The consequences of this are to be imagined but one consequence sets it apart and that is the child bride that is given over to pay off debts due to the military and political influences on the cultivation, production and distribution of opium. The personal history is the real hook. Fariba has such a unique take on her home having spent more than half her life in the US. She doesn't condemn the way that her Afghan sisters live their lives, they have no choice for a woman to wear pants in Kabul is ask for real trouble. Yet to wear a head scarf in the US is to elicit suspicion. Anyone interested cursory history of Afghanistan or an engaging biography of going home would be well served to read Opium Nation by Fariba Nawa. Khaled Hosseini named it one of his must read books on Afghanistan. And who am I to argue?
This book needs a MAP. And a glossary. And a timeline. The author skips back and forth in time so frequently I couldn't keep track of what year each section (within a chapter) took place.
Despite frequently having to stop and Google a term, or a location, or getting confused on if it was 2001 or 2004 or 2003 etc, this book gives a lot of insight into a very complex country - particularly the difficulties with the opium trade and how eradicating poppy fields is not the answer. The author is right in saying that the complexities too frequently get simplified and glossed over in our (US) news reports.
লেখিকা আমেরিকান থিঙ্কট্যাঙ্কে চাকরি করে/করত, সেজন্য তার দৃষ্টিভঙ্গিও লিবারেল, প্রো-আমেরিকান। আফগানিস্তানের ভেতরে এবং বাইরে নিজের অভিজ্ঞতা বর্ণনা করেছে, কিন্তু ন্যারেটিভ বিচ্ছিন্ন। এবং আফগানিস্তান সম্পর্কে যে বিচ্ছিন্ন তথ্যগুলো দিয়েছে, তার অধিকাংশই সারভেস লেভেলের প্রো-আমেরিকান মিডিয়ার সাথে বেশি যায়। সব মিলিয়ে খুব একটা ভালো লাগে নাই।
The information is nice, and the interviews and viewpoints are interesting, but the whole 'personal narrative' was a little saccharine sometimes, I feel like the reader would be aware without the author having to make it obvious. Gets really cheesy at the end, and the cheese doesn't seem worth the extra dead trees.
Opium Nation is a portrait of Afghanistan today - corrupt, impoverished, clannish, and teeming with life. The author, Fariba Nawa, an Afghan by birth whose family fled during the Soviet war in the early 1980s, returns to her beloved homeland post-2001 and finds a war-ravaged land and people. She also finds opium, lots and lots of opium, in nearly every province and in every form. As I read the last pages, I couldn't help but feel a sense of disappointment that what had begun as a promising look at the roots of the drug trade and the implications of the drug trade on foreign policy around the world had devolved into so many incohesive stories. By the end, Opium Nation seemed to be experiencing a real identity crisis: part serious work of research with real potential and real life, part graduate thesis that read more like it was made for an academic journal than a global audience, part autobiography, and part a defense of Afghanistan and its people. For example, Ms. Nawa's quest to find the girl Darya became the story because of her personal importance to the author, when from the perspective of the drug trade and economy she was no more than a blip on the radar screen.
Every few pages Ms. Nawa would drop tantalizing pieces of information about the global drug trade, for example Thailand's decades of work to reduce the quantity of drugs produced in that country, but then the trail went cold. The book - and therefore its readers - might have been better served had Ms. Nawa focused on a single narrative (for example, the underpinnings of the drug trade and opium/heroin market) and then examined that narrative from so many viewpoints - traveling to Thailand and speaking with officials there, traveling to the final consumer countries and examining demand drivers, treatments, even distribution networks, comparing Afghan opium, smuggling, and distribution networks to those of South American countries. I was frustrated because the topic had great potential and yet too often the real story was interrupted by a familial anecdote or some other sentimentally important story that served no larger purpose than for the author to weave her own history into this book.
This is one of the most touching yet informative book I've read about Afghanistan in a while. Probably at the top of my favorite books about Afghanistan. I think the books takes the audience on a journey that few foreign journalists or Afghan journalist could take them on. Many of the books I've read about Afghanistan are either the account of a foreigner introducing the country to other foreigners as he/she learns the country on a few-month-long trip or an Afghan attempting to convey the emotions of the people and the gravity of the situation to the foreigner.
In both cases, the problem is how to take an alien nation to the foreigner and render it familiar. Ms. Nawa has been brilliant in fixing that "lost in translation" problem because she'd spent time in Afghanistan when was young, grew up in the United States and then spent years and years back in Afghanistan. She's well aware of both the Western and the Afghan psyche and her book shows it. I don't see this as an ordinary book. It's part memoir, part introduction to an alien culture, part the suffering of the population through the wars, all woven around the menace that is the drug trade. A little bit for everyone and a whole lot for those of us interested in finding out how drugs have changed both Afghan and Western lives.
Of course, this is not a book for people who know absolutely nothing about Afghanistan and need to pick up an encyclopedia or google for a few minutes to know a few details. For me the best part of the book is that it explores the people of Afghans on a very intimate level - something I've seldom seen in a book about the country written before. So if you get slightly confused about a few details, trust me, a few minutes on google won't hurt. Adding everything in a book that wants to explore such deep issues would require over a 1,000 pages.
Once I got used to the writing style, I really got absorbed in the information. This is one woman's journey through Afghanistan, talking to opium farmers, traffickers, addicts, families of farmers and traffickers and even government officials who are involved in the drug trade. Some are involved both as traffickers and informants. Taken at face value, Fariba Nawa's story explains very well why the U.S. and allies cannot really make headway in training Afghan leadership for democratic style government. Opium is such a huge part of the economy there and everyone is involved in some way. It all seems a rather hopeless situation. Her point of view is interesting because she left Afghanistan with her family when the Soviets invaded. She came to the US as a 10 year old and grew up here and went to college, all the time trying to reconcile her Afghan heritage and love for her homeland with her life here. Her travels in Afghanistan helped her come to terms with those feelings and also allowed her a unique view of the situation there.
Very interesting information and I learned a lot about life in Afghanistan through the wars and how people coped, however, this could have been much better. It is terribly disorganized and the author constantly jumps all over the place between people, locations, dates, her personal life and random facts. It is very confusing and hard to stay focused on the interesting bits sprinkled throughout. It's like the author typed up a great book and then shuffled all the paragraphs into a random order. With a very thorough edit this could be a much better book. I also found it focused far less on opium brides than expected given the title. She highlights one woman's story and kinda stops there to move on to other topics. Still interesting but I'm sure I could have invested the time on a better book on the subject without the headache of constantly trying to figure out who, what, when and where Nawa is talking about.
This is a book worth reading,but it was not one which I could truly connect with. The book is tied together with the on-going story on a young "opium bride" name Darya,yet I found this story oddly uncompelling and uninteresting. The child never speaks for herself and in fact only physically appears a couple of times. Darya feels less like an individual person with whom we can empathize and more like a composite,or a projection of the author's own emotions and inner struggles. The book would have benefited from a stronger personal unifying story.
The central theme of the book - opium production and smuggling in Afghanistan - is well developed and interesting though, which makes the book worth the time to read from an intellectual, if not emotional,viewpoint.
This book is about one women's journey through Afghanistan. Fariba explains how Opium, which is another word for drugs, originated around Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East, she also talks about how Opium trade, can cause girls as young as the age of 10, to get married, because of their family debt towards the opium trade, they are often known as Opium Brides. Fariba also talks about her families's migration from her native country of Afghanistan to America, because of the conflict and war that was going in her country. She talks about being adjusting to a new life style in California. She also mentions being teased and bullied in school about being different and how her parents; especially her mom never agreed with the way she dressed and her way of life, all because she was Muslim. I can relate with Fariba's life in so many ways, I remember my first day of school in America; kids would always tease me, because I was different, I didn't speak English at the time, just like Fariba, and I was mocked and teased upon. Plus Fariba's parents, just like mines came to america so their kids could have a better education, life and have opportunities. But yet they are always being controlling and strict on what we wear, who we hang out with and what we do. This shows that, Fariba is a person who is willing to try and adjust to new things, because after she arrived in America she had to get use to the lifestyle, language and etc... We all somehow in our life always have or are willing to try new things, and by trying those new things it creates a sense of diversity and awareness around your surroundings.
I started reading this book because I knew that the author was speaking at the TEDx Monterey conference I was attending. As a speaker, she was compelling and charismatic; as a writer, she borders on cold and detached, even though the subject - and her homecoming to Afghanistan - is emotionally-charged.
The reality of child brides and Fariba's interactions with one such bride, Darya, do not play as much of a role in the book as I had anticipated. The latter two elements in her book title - drug lords and her own journey - held a much larger role in the narrative.
I liked the book, but I didn't love it. I will never look at a poppy the same way again. That is for sure!
Lots of great information on Afghanistan--the people, culture, history--but not quite what I had been hoping for when I picked up the book. Wanted more info on the drug trade and child brides and a little less family introspection. I'll admit, I ended up cherry-picking the chapters I wanted to read.
Not to say it's a bad book. It's not. It's very engaging--at times tense and at others, almost dreamy. If I had more time, I would have loved to read the whole thing cover to cover and probably would have even enjoyed the author's self-indulgent trips down memory lane. But I picked this book up for research and I'm on deadline.
This book provided great insight into Afghanistan from the perspective of a native-born woman. I really enjoyed how she described the two worlds, American and Afghanistan. I was intrigued by the power play between drug lords and government; however it did drone on a little too much. All said and done I would highly recommend this book.
The book starts with the author and then takes you into the whole aspects of drug trade and the author does a good job on talking about how drug trade can be both good and back, that was interesting. Anybody interesting in human trafficking and child abuse should also read the book!
Extremely informative read on the underbelly of the drug trade epidemic in Afghanistan. Harsh realities of government affiliation, civilian addiction and the child bride victims caught in the middle. The world should know the facts!
I had high hopes for this book and while it was insightful, it wasn't what I thought it would be. This is more of a memoir/travel journal/non-fiction piece. We get a lot of the author's life story in this book and amid that we are informed of the Opium trade in Afghanistan. What I was hoping for was more of a "Behind the Beautiful Forever's" fly on the wall in-depth story focusing on one opium bride. I would have loved to have had that with Darya (the girl who is highlighted as the opium bride). To learn about her, to watch her day to day, to be there when she is taken to be a bride. It would have meant an author who could embed in that family, which I don't think this author was willing to do. I could have also done with less of the author's self-reflections on her identity crisis (am I Afghan? Am I American? Am I a traitor? How do I become a true Afghan if I didn't stay here and suffer?). I think there is a story in many of the threads this author started but clearly would have to be followed up on by a man or male journalist. This is not a society for single women at all. I will say this book should be required reading for all Western journalists who cover Afghanistan - than it would give some insight into the culture and would hopefully finally have these journalists stop harping on the same things "women's rights, girls education" no doubt important but in a country where people can't even eat or have a change of clothes, let us not focus only on Kabul wealthy people problems and perhaps not send in female reporters if you want to really get open and honest answers. Recommend for those interested in this part of the world or goin to work in this part of the world.
English is not my first language but that didn't stop me from reading this great book. Actually, it pushed me to search for more information and I read two more books about Afghanistan. I wanted to know about the country and people living there, more than I heard in the news or on TV. This book opened my eyes to see how complicated things are there. Everything could be solved easy if a bunch of people are not always hungry for more and more money. If your country has not been attacked and in the war (like mine was 30 years ago), you simply can not understand the mess, fear and everything that goes with it. If war is not happening in your country, it is always somewhere far away where „someone is killing someone“. And if it is far enough, we have a privilege of not understanding and not worrying. We think we know something because we heard it in the news, we read in the newspaper, but actually we know little or nothing about what and why. We also can not grasp historical reasons, for example: why neighbors started hating each other. Fariba's book was like watching a personal documentary movie. I am glad she shared her experiences and told us about her family's everyday life, emphasizing women's perspective. I compare that with my life and think how would I live under different circumstances. I admire her bravery, traveling around, investigating and telling us her story. In a way she did it for me, too, because I am sure my feet will never touch Afghanistan land. I truly hope that in some parallel Universe Afghanistan is a happy place, where trees bend under fruits and birds chirp in the morning, kids are playing and there are no land mines everywhere.
Listened to the audiobook version. About 10 hours. The author and her mother go back to Herat after living in Fremont and writes about what has changed from her childhood and to research about how opium growing works in Afghanistan. Her travels almost get her killed and she is warned of this but seems determined to have an encounter perhaps to help her book have a high point. The opium industry is explained better than any other book I've read so 10/10 for that. The country is tribal and the sharia laws prevail with or without the taliban to enforce them Opium is the major crop and pays the most so until there is LESS DEMAND nothing will change (my opinion too) but the book mentions this just once. The book only briefly discusses child marriage so having it in the title as a topic is misleading. In the end I think the author wrote a travel diary more than a book that tells anything we didn't already know. Everyone is in the opium trade/ everyone denies they are in the opium trade. It's a interesting read and a very good attempt at searching out the effects of opium at the family level, also child marriage. There is much more to be revealed I'm sure and this writer was able to chat with women and hear their tales. A male writer could not have done that. Will read more of Fariba Nawa if she does more.
A bitter sweet end to a lengthy book. I especially loved learning about the different areas and political occupations of Afghanistan...up to and including Russia's, America's and the Taliban's role in the country up until 2011 (when the book ends.) It is a autobiography of the author's experience growing up, leaving and returning to Afghanistan. The main focus always returns to the affect opium had on the country with specific focus on the women affected. (I image the focus on one specific girl/woman is intended to be a foil to herself and the person/situation she could have been if she stayed.) The story is definitely gruesome at points, gripping as she risks her life and unfortunately dry when we slip into some of the opium historical facts. Most of the time she does a great job of incorporating the facts into the story making it immersive and effective. It is definitely worth the read to get an in-depth, personal perspective on a place and people that the media and America tends to cast in one single light, instead of the multi-layered colorful place that is Afghanistan.
As a Farsi speaking woman traveling in Afghanistan Fariba Nawa has access to a world that is hidden behind closed doors. I have read numerous narratives of travel in Afghanistan written by men but they had no access to the hidden half of the population and if the authors didn’t speak Pashto or Farsi they minimal insights about the people themselves.
As an Afghan American with relatives still in Afghanistan this author has access and insights about the people and regional differences in culture that I had not heard before. I hope she publishes again but after the recent collapse are re-establishment of Taliban rule I expect that is unlikely.
I find myself wondering what happened to Darya. In my mind I picture her to be like the famous national geographic cover girl who when found decades later did not realize her image as a youth had been seen by billions. I am glad this author told her story, or at least what little of it she could uncover.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I, honestly, kinda like this book. It always made me ask, 'What's going to happen to Fariba Nawa?' I was surprised when the woman who embarks on this journey through Afghanistan was actually the author. Upon reading this book, you start to realize where people get these stereotypes of middle easterners, while you notice where some racist jokes, in which you hear, originate. When you start off reading this book, you think you know what goes on in Afghanistan. However, this book causes you to think that there is more to the story than some common myths or stereotypes you usually hear. To contrast, some parts seem to bore me a little, but that doesn't happen to often. Some parts of the story was really predictable, especially when those two agents get captured and executed as they beg for mercy.
Interesting story of an Afghan lady who left the country at a young age, and grew up in America in the Bay Area. She got the chance to go back as a journalist to visit the people and homes of her childhood after the American invasion. The hospitality given, food and a place to sleep from people who are not wealthy is great to see. Being a native speaker of Farsi opened a lot of doors. Insights into the drug trade, Taliban, Mujahadeen and gangsters gives a clear view of how the nation has become dependent on income from growing and trafficking. A couple of times, she really could have been kidnapped or killed. All in all a very readable book, well worth it for people like myself who have little idea of the culture, language, ethnicities of this nation. I would love to visit if the situation ever changes.
Opium Nation weaves the story of the opium/heroin drug trade in Afghanistan with the author's search for her Afghan identity having fled her country at the age of 9. She explores firsthand the drug trade and its effects on the politicians, the traders, and the addicts. Most importantly she presents a different picture of Afghan women whether they be drug dealers, drug widows, or women involved in the anti-narcotics organizations. There are little details that make this book come alive, like having to sleep in Kabul with four layers of clothing and three blankets because of the cold, details that thresh out a picture of the country that one doesn’t find in the news media or other books about Afghanistan.
Interesting nonfiction account of women and drugs in Afghanistan. This account is a personal one as the author was born and raised in Afghanistan until she was nine years of age when her family left the country. Her going back years later was an exploration of her country and also one of seeing how the drug trade rules the country now. From drug lords to corrupt officials. She looks at child brides paying off drug depts. She looks at how difficult it would be to take away the poppy business for the poor farmers and how hard it would be to change an entire economy that is dependent on the sale of opium. When we think about how drugs are ruining lives and families, we don't think about the people who are in the drug trade and how it has also damaged the lives of ordinary Afghans.
“Opium is everywhere”— this statement seems almost an understatement. The book gives a picture of how complex this issue is. “I have never known there to be justice in Afghanistan. The poor always lose,” says a female Afghani police officer. “Afghanistan is a mystery that no outsider can unravel or know,” writes the author. Complicated corruption that drives the deaths of those who dare to oppose them: “a message: the Taliban and their drug lord friends rule so many areas and they kill whoever gets in their way.” And yet women do what they can to cope: “Afghan women’s threshold for suffering seems higher than any Western woman can imagine.”
The author basically writes two different pieces and tries to blend them, but it just feels disjointed. The historical view that focuses more on the impact of opium on the country is really strong and provides a different line of sight into the country. Her personal narrative just doesnt fit.
She tries to paint her own inner turmoil around feeling torn between two countries as somehow being a parallel with the awful conditions many of the people are forced to live under. I dont question she feels conflicted, but its just not the same.
After reading ‘The Kite Runner,” “West of Kabul, East of New York,’ and ‘Looming Tower,’ I found this book another much-needed perspective to what Afghanistan faces each day. It truly is horrifying and tragic how the opium trade has devastated their life in every way possible. Following Dariya’s story is heartbreaking, but what is actually happening. I appreciate the author taking time to speak to the countless people she did to tell this perspective and provide some insight into the injustice taking place.