Cover image for 99 nights in Logar
Title:
99 nights in Logar
ISBN:
9780525559191
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, New York : Viking, [2019]
Physical Description:
279 pages ; 22 cm
Summary:
"A coming-of-age story about one boy's journey across contemporary Afghanistan to find and bring home the family dog, blending the grit and immediacy of voice-driven fiction like We Need New Names with the mythmaking of One Thousand and One Nights. Twelve-year-old Marwand's memories from his previous visit to Afghanistan six years ago center on his contentious relationship with Budabash, the terrifying but beloved dog who guards his extended family's compound in Logar. Eager to find an ally in this place that's meant to be "home," Marwand approaches Budabash the way he would any dog on his American suburban block--and the results are disastrous: Marwand loses a finger and Budabash escapes. The resulting search for the family dog is an expertly told adventure, a ninety-nine-night quest that sends Marwand and his cousins across the landscape of Logar. Moving between celebrations and tragedies, deeply humorous and surprisingly tender, 99 Nights in Logar is a vibrant exploration of the power of stories--the ones we tell each other, and the ones we find ourselves in"-- Provided by publisher.
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Summary

Summary

"Funny, razor-sharp, and full of juicy tales that feel urgent and illicit . . . the author has created a singular, resonant voice, an American teenager raised by Old World Afghan storytellers." --New York Times Book Review

A dog on the loose. A boy yearning to connect to his family's roots. A country in the midst of great change. And a vibrant exploration of the power of stories--the ones we tell each other and the ones we find ourselves in.

Twelve-year-old Marwand's memories from his previous visit to Afghanistan six years ago center on his contentious relationship with Budabash, the terrifying but beloved dog who guards his extended family's compound in the rural village of Logar. But eager for an ally in this place that is meant to be "home," Marwand misreads his reunion with the dog and approaches Budabash the way he would any pet on his American suburban block--and the results are disastrous: Marwand loses a finger, and Budabash escapes into the night.

Marwand is not chastened and doubles down on his desire to fit in here. He must get the dog back, and the resulting search is a gripping and vivid adventure story, a lyrical, funny, and surprisingly tender coming-of-age journey across contemporary Afghanistan that blends the bravado and vulnerability of a boy's teenage years with an homage to familial oral tradition and calls to mind One Thousand and One Nights yet speaks with a voice all its own.


Author Notes

Jamil Jan Kochai was born in Pakistan and grew up in the United States. His story "Nights in Logar," upon which this debut novel is based, won the 2018 O. Henry Prize. He currently attends the Iowa Writers' Workshop.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Kochai's debut is an imaginative, enthralling, and lyrical exploration of coming home-and coming-of-age-set amid the political tensions of modern Afghanistan. Twelve-year-old Marwand returns to his family's village of Logar in 2005-and on the very first day, has the tip of his index finger bitten off by the compound's fearsome guard dog, Budabash. Marwand, with his cousin, two "little uncles," and younger brother, then vow "jihad against Budabash"-as soon as they can find the runaway hound. The seemingly Huck Finn-like tale, however, slowly evolves into a mesmerizing collection of stories, first narrated by Marwand (who recounts the vicious beating he gave an old mutt when the family first settled in Afghanistan in 1999) and set against the backdrop of a war-torn region. Through nightly conversations in the family compound, Marwand discovers that talk "always seemed to circle back to war." His 99-day-long search for the devil dog Budabash is filled with the stories of events both real and imagined: a family wedding, a mysterious illness that takes down the household, and finally the dreamlike clash between Marwand and Budabash. Kochai is a masterful storyteller, and will leave readers eager for the next tale. (Jan.) c Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

Kochai's debut chronicles the adventures of 12-year-old Marwand on a summer trip from the U.S. to the village of Logar, in Afghanistan, to visit family. Marwand quickly falls in with his two young uncles, Gul and Dawood, and his cousin Zia, and runs afoul of the family's guard dog, Budabash, who he tormented on a visit six years prior. Budabash lashes out at Marwand, biting off the tip of one of his fingers, and then runs off. Marwand, Gul, Dawood, and Zia set off to find the dog, venturing out into an Afghanistan still overrun with American soldiers and the resurgent Taliban. Along the way, the boys both hear and recount stories, painting a portrait of a country beset by occupying forces and internal unrest yet buoyed by a rich cultural history and a resilient population. Kochai captures the joys and the sorrows of life in Afghanistan, offering readers a glimpse into everyday life in a country whose people have grown so used to constant bombardment that they can differentiate between various types of IEDs by sound alone.--Kristine Huntley Copyright 2018 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

Alessandro DAvenia is a best-selling author in his native Italy and around the world. He has many fans and gives TED Talks, in which he speaks just as he writes. In a publishing world that rewards E. L. James and Dan Brown with millions in sales while many devotees of craft and language labor in poverty, D'Avenia is a star. His third novel, "What Hell Is Not," based on a true story and translated by Jeremy Parzen, follows Federico, a bookish teenager from Palermo who, just before a summer of study in England, is recruited by his teacher, the kind Don Pino, to mentor children in a poor neighborhood plagued by Mafia violence. Federico wants to read, to write, to fall in love. Don Pino offers wisdom, hope and goodness. Any potential for a profound narrative in this promising setup is thwarted by the writing, which is bloated and indulgent. The book's dreamy musings and vague scenes are laden with metaphors so mixed it can require several reads just to take in their true awfulness. Federico pines for a girl: "She's the one who rummages through his heart, in the tangle where dreams grow. Things bathed in too much light cast the same amount of shadow. Every light has its grieving." Abeat later: "He covers his acerbic face with his hands, as if he could feel his visage with his fingers. He resembles a sailor on the pier as he waits for a contract following mandatory shore leave.... He allows light, wind and salt to reshape his flesh and thoughts." It is difficult to know whom to blame, author or translator, for the manic descriptions, desperate reflections and mangled aphorisms. Who thought "trots along like a sleepwalker" (try to picture that) or "a bullet is instant destiny" should be written down in any language? But Parzen didn't create this frightful simile: "Life seems like those textbook equations whose solutions are found in the lower right hand of the page, framed by parentheses. But he never gets the procedure right. And it worries him that two minuses make a plus and a minus and a plus a minus." The novel's images are contorted, its metaphors removed from the physical world. "Curtains flap like snakes against the heat-besieged windows." Humanity "explodes like a seed." (Do snakes flap, the reader asks, or seeds explode?) Every dead thing is compared to fish, every dark or mysterious thing to Arabs. As a woman is raped, "her eyes are like those of a fish dumped out onto the shore," and D'Avenia ends the chapter thus, as if to preen: "A piece of meat in a piece of meat can wound just as much." Translation is a tricky business, but did this grotesque analogy sound O.K. in Italian? D'Avenia's authorial style may be "more is more," but even when no words are needed, he still offers a dozen: "The Hunter doesn't utter a word. Attitude is all someone with power needs and words only get in the way unless they are absolutely necessary." Never have I read a more unintentionally ironic sentence. D'Avenia's relationship to simile is misguided and cynical: used to obfuscate, not clarify. Federico, styled as a poet, claims to love "the metaphor that dislocates reality." But the purpose of rhetoric isn't to dislodge; it is to ground. Kenneth Burke famously wrote that metaphor "brings out the thisness of a that, or the thatness of a this," to make the intangible tangible. Nothing in this novel is tangible. Page after page, the reader senses that something has gone terribly wrong here. Somewhere between the writing, editing and translation the audience has been dismissed, and all beauty murdered like poor Don Pino. The question of audience is answered more deliberately by Jamil Jan Kochai, an Iowa M.F.A. candidate whose debut novel, "99 Nights in Logar," is crafted with care, respect and a hard-earned and profound understanding of its readership. It is funny, razor-sharp and full of juicy tales that feel urgent and illicit, turning the reader into a lucky, trilingual fly on the wall in a family loaded with secrets and prone to acquiring more. The narrator, 12-year-old Marwand, is returning from America with his brothers and parents to his family's compound in Logar province in eastern Afghanistan, where over the course of 99 days he reconnects with a house full of saucy and callused aunts and uncles, crashes a wedding in a stolen burqa, has his finger bitten off and his Coolpix stolen, and gets lost in a deathly maze of compounds that may or may not be a hallucination. The novel opens with four boys running away from their distracted parents to search for a rabid old dog from whom Marwand seeks forgiveness for tortures past. But in 2005, Afghanistan is wild, full of killers: "The psychopathic white boys, the ravenous bandits, the Ts and the gunmen and the drug runners, the kidney kidnappers, the robots in the sky." The ensuing adventure is witty and engaging, somewhat allegorical, thrumming with the histories of foreign wars and with memories of lives lost and childhoods cut short. When Marwand's father is tempted to stay in the States, his wife reminds him of their own culpability, living and working there. "I don't support the invaders," he says, thinking of the excesses of American bases, the heroin, the chai boys. And yet, the family's return to America is inevitable; this is only a single nostalgic summer spent marrying off daughters, sharing platters of rice and remembering. The novel is constructed out of spoken stories within stories, each more embellished than the last ("It's O.K. to change a story a little if you can make it better"), shared over evening chai, or while waiting for help on the roadside, or watching explosions on a distant mountain. One character narrates until he can't continue, Marwand tells us, and at "the point in the story I most wanted to hear, someone else took a sip of his chai and began his own story, and so on and so forth, until everyone was given a say and not a single story was actually finished." When Marwand argues to his father that American TV has tales just as good as the ones told in Logar, his father says, "But not our stories." And that is precisely the point. While the novel is written in English, it deprioritizes the Western reader. This is its most interesting accomplishment: It ignores the Western gaze, despite Kochai's firm grasp of its prose standards. The author has created a singular, resonant voice, an American teenager raised by Old World Afghan storytellers. He mixes Farsi and English and Pashto without the expectation that any one reader (except another Marwand) will understand all of it. There is an exoticism in the technique of peppering foreign words into English texts, then promptly translating them - a repetition much like breaking the fourth wall. But here are Farsi words untranslated for the reader, used only where Marwand would naturally speak in that tongue. Consider this sentence: "Although an imam had made the nikkah between Khaista and Atal official, giving them the holy right to" - insert sexual expletive - "as much as they pleased, poor Khaista was beset by her six idiot brothers, whose ghairat revealed itself only in times of ease or during opportunities for cruelty." The American reader doesn't need an interpreter in order to relish this voice, but an Afghan-American will enjoy it many times more. "Wallah," the band of cousins swear to one another, again and again - and that word evokes many of our childhoods. The final story, a sacred family tale about the death of a beloved uncle, a story foreshadowed throughout, is written entirely in Pashto script. This bold choice doesn't take away from the present narrative any more than do Scheherazade's elisions from her story, but the tale does enrich the novel for those who can read it - here is a secret reserved for some. Unlike the token applepolishing uncle, Kochai doesn't offer anything to the Americans for cheap. How refreshing that Kochai isn't posturing for the West, though he knows just how to entrance its reader. His images are precise, in harmony with the physical world. He doesn't dabble in Eastern melodrama unless he's satirizing. "This one time, at a wedding, Ruhollah Maamaa was having trouble with an AK during a machine-gun celebration": Such a sentence can only end riotously for a family whose rooster is named George Bush. Kochai has created an exciting and true voice, a young American proudly telling stories of his Afghan grandparents, of his cousins and brothers, without the need for Western approval. He doesn't alter a single word for their comfort, describing, for example, "hair so deeply brown it was almost blond," because, to us, brown is lighter than average. In that way, he respects his global audience all the more, while still claiming Afghan stories for Afghans. The success and failure of Kochai's and D'Avenia's novels, respectively, both published for Western readers, depend on their regard for that audience. One novel doesn't bother with any reader at all, while the other knowingly, respectfully looks another way. dina nayeri is the author, most recently, of "Refuge." Her next book, "The Ungrateful Refugee," will be published this year.


Library Journal Review

DEBUT Part coming-of-age story and part contemporary history of Afghanistan, Kochai's debut novel is told in an episodic style reminiscent of The Arabian Nights. When 12-year-old Marwand returns to Afghanistan with his parents and brothers to see extended family, his first order of business is to visit the compound's menacing guard dog, Budabesh, who clearly has not forgotten a previous beating by Marwand and proceeds to bite off half of his index finger. The dog then escapes. From there the story is ostensibly about Marwand's search for the animal, but it eventually evolves into a picaresque tale, with Marwand and his crew encountering a cast of eccentric characters and landing in precarious, sometimes violent situations. What is real and what is imagined can be hard to ascertain. In the end, this is a work about family. Though war stains most of their shared history, their allegiance to one another stays constant. VERDICT While the writing is beautiful throughout, this novel ultimately asks a lot of the reader. Its chimerical nature may be a bit off-putting, and several scenes of animal cruelty can be tough to read. Still, libraries specializing in world literature will want to have this on hand as a fine example of the meeting of modern and traditional storytelling. [See Prepub Alert, 7/9/18.]-Stephen Schmidt, Greenwich Lib., CT © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

On the Thirty-Second Morning Budabash got free sometime in the night. We didn't know how. Just that he did and that we needed to go and find him. Me and Gul and Zia and Dawood heading out onto the roads of Logar, together, for the first time, hoping to get Budabash back home before nightfall. This all happened only a few weeks into my trip, my family's homecoming in the summer of '05, back when it cost only a G to fly across the ocean, from Sac to SF to Taipei to Karachi to Peshawar all the way up to Logar, where, at the time, though it wasn't dead, the American war was sort of dozing, like in a coma, or as if it were still reeling off a contact high from that recently booming Afghan H, leaving the soldiers and the bandits and the robots almost harmless. So that all that mattered then for a musafir from America was how he was going to go about killing another hot summer day. Gulbuddin said it'd be a four-man operation.  He said it in Pakhto because my Farsi was shit. "You see," he told me, Zia, and Dawood as we huddled in the orchard before our chase, "more than four and we'll look like a mob, but any less and we might get jumped." Gul sat at the head of our circle, twirling one end of the thick black mustache his older sisters were always trying to tear from his lip because it made him look too much like the beautiful Turkish gangsters from their soap operas. From where he was sitting--up against the mud wall that ran between the courtyard and the orchard--he could spy on all the apple trees and the cow's pen and the big blue gate and even the very corner of the orchard where Budabash once sat and slept and ate my god-damn finger. Gul was my little uncle. About fourteen. The oldest of our bunch. "What about four and a half?" I said, thinking about my little brother. "What did I  just  say, Marwand?" "More than four is a mob," Dawood answered. "But an extra half might come in useful," I said. "Not the half you're talking about," Dawood said, squatting at the farthest edge of our circle, taking up too much space. Dawood was my other little uncle. Around twelve years old. Same as me. "Listen, fellahs," I went on. "Five is a good number. Five pillars. Five prayers. Five players on a basketball team." "Only five?" Zia asked. "Well, is it four and a half or five?" Dawood asked. "Futball is better," Zia said. "In futball everyone gets to play." "What do you think?" I looked to Zia. He was my cousin. Rahmutallah Maamaa's oldest kid. Probably thirteen--though you could never be too sure with the kids in Logar. But Zia just shrugged his skinny shoulders and aimed the barrels of his fingers at Gulbuddin. "Chik, chik," Zia said, "pow, pow," and pulled his triggers twice. Gulbuddin nodded at Zia and pressed down on the air with his hands. His eyes, green like duck shit, shifted from us, to the gate, to the courtyard, where the rest of the family still slept. We quieted down. "We'll put it to a vote," he said. "Raise your hand if you want Gwora to come along." Dawood rubbed his skinned head as if he were going to vote for Gwora but couldn't make up his mind. Zia's scrawny fingers stayed nestled in his lap, counting out the ninety-nine names of Allah. Gul didn't even move. Only my busted hand went up into that morning chill. "Well, fuck," I muttered in English, and relented to the will of the jirga. With my little brother rejected, I didn't say much else for the rest of the meeting as they shifted, almost rapid fire, from one topic to the next: how to start, where to look, where to stop, where Dawood would sniff, when Zia would pray, what Gul would chance if we met a marine or a djinn or a bandit or one of our other uncles who'd already gone ahead of us on the chase. "We go out. We find Budabash. We bring him home," Gul said. "Simple as that. Dawood does some sniffing. I ask a few questions. Zia says a few prayers. And if we run into Rahmutallah, Marwand makes sure we don't get whupped. Right, Marwand?" Rahmutallah Maamaa--my oldest uncle--was already out on the road looking for Budabash. Had he caught us that day, I was supposed to tell him that our mission was my idea. "Okay," I said. "I'll lie." "You swear to God you'll lie?" Dawood said. "Don't say it unless you mean it," Gul said. "You'll be bound by Allah," Zia added. Gul and Dawood made pistols with their fingers and pointed them at my chest. I made a pistol too but put it to the temple of my head. "Wallah," I said, cocking my finger. "I won't snitch." Gul laughed and reached for my hands and put them between his own. "All right," he said, being careful with the gauze wrapped around my torn finger. "We were just joking, you see, a joke for the road. You understand?" I said that I did. After we gathered our supplies--biscuits and apples, four small knives wrapped in butcher paper, eight water bottles, the first siparah of the Quran, a packet of matches, two notebooks me and Gwora filled up with our observations on Budabash, four bundles of rope, duct tape, and my Coolpix--we headed out toward the big blue gate, and it was there, at the threshold of the gate and the road, the compound and the village, that Gwora, my little brother, caught me slipping. He stumbled into the orchard, his arms filled with a jumble of papers and notebooks, howling about our work, our agreement, and pleading for me to take him along. I explained to Gwora in English, real calm, that he couldn't come, that it wasn't up to me; but he wouldn't listen, wouldn't understand, and all that time the fellahs were watching me from the gate, whispering to one another in Farsi, until I told him one last time, in Pakhto, why he had to stay home, and when that also didn't work, I  showed  him why. It didn't take long. After the whupping, I left Gwora in the orchard all crumpled up, trying again and again not to cry, while me and the rest of the fellahs headed out onto the roads of Logar to search all day long for the wolf-dog who, just a few weeks ago, had bitten the tip off my index finger.     Excerpted from 99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.