A whirlwind of a coming-of-age story weaved into Middle Eastern tradition, literature, folklore, and allegory. 99 Nights in Logar faces two challenges: writing from a child’s perspective and delivering dozens of grander tales and ideas in a natural, effective way. Jamil Jan Kochai succeeds. His bittersweet narration also likes to swing between the real and unreal. This ambitious debut novel has much to teach.
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You’re immediately drawn into the fast-paced storytelling of a 12-year-old. Marwand has come from the US with his family to visit the rest of his kin in Logar. It’s amusing and fascinating but often disturbing how a child sees the world, especially a war-ridden one. Distant gunshots shouldn’t serve as lullabies…
Sometimes, however, Marwand’s adult version leans into the narration. Such moments seem to be there to remind you that these are memories you’re reading. This metafictional fact is important as events take place that seem unreal. Is that really how they happened? Or how young Marwand remembers them? Enriched with all the stories he’d heard.
Part of the beauty of 99 Nights in Logar is the way it pulls you into Afghanistan’s culture. Kochai addresses stereotypical misconceptions by having Marwand show you around life in Logar, from social etiquette and marital traditions to the dangers of a country in turmoil.
String of Stories
This book is very much about storytelling – like One Thousand and One Nights. The narrative contains tale upon tale, some linked, others independent. Characters’ stories mingle with folklore and scripture. In the end, you question the difference between them and how important they all are to reality.
Alongside the stories, there are moments that verge on the fantastical. Maybe Marwand’s imagination takes over now and then to explain rational situations. Or maybe they really did happen and we should simply accept them as the novel’s reality. What matters is that 99 Nights in Logar is about physical, moral and spiritual growth. And such things sometimes need distance from reality in order to evolve.
If you enjoy unique reading experiences and exploring their essence, this is a debut novel worth unravelling. To gain a richer understanding, read up on Middle Eastern folklore before or alongside it. Also, if you don’t know Pakhto, have a reliable translating app at the ready…
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