Afghan journeys

<strong>The Sleeping Buddha</strong>

Hamida Ghafour <em>Constable & Robinson, 320pp, £8.99</em>

Ever wondered why people sell their daughters? Perhaps you think you’re too thin to get married? Not questions that come up often in Britain, but they are the meat and drink of Kabul’s Dr Frasier Crane – Abdul Basir Balouch – whose snappily named radio show, Guidance and Advice for Youth, is huge in Afghanistan.

Balouch is one of the many individuals we meet in Hamida Ghafour’s extraordinary book, The Sleeping Buddha. Ghafour’s parents fled the Soviets when she was two years old. This is an account of her journeys around her homeland as a reporter more than 20 years later.

Her family history is interesting enough. Ghafour’s grandfather was King Zahir Shah’s intelligence chief, her grandmother was a feminist poet, and her writer cousin played a key role in galvanising anti-Soviet sentiment. But this is also a history and a work of reportage that illuminates some of Afghanistan’s tragedies.

Ghafour, a persistent journalist, catches up with “Butcher of the North” Abdul Rashid Dostum, as well as characters such as the Michigan hairstylist who moved to Kabul. Her eyewitness accounts provide powerful insights into recent events from the perspective of a western woman, but with the inside track of an Afghan.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.

This article first appeared in the 16 April 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Iran