Book Review Shadow City A Woman Walks Kabul

Join Taran N. Khans journey as she explores the grassroots of a post-Taliban Kabul
Book Review Shadow City A Woman Walks Kabul
Book Review Shadow City A Woman Walks Kabul

&ldquoStories in Kabul begin with the phrase &lsquoYeki bood, yeki na bood&rsquo. There was one, there was no one,&rdquo writes Taran N. Khan. Her story in Shadow City is similar. Walking around and exploring a city isn&rsquot an unknown concept, neither is it new. But a woman walking around post-Taliban Kabul isn&rsquot something you come by every day. And yet, Khan did it daily, and for years.

She writes about the city not how people write travelogues, but in the same way people write about life itself&mdashfull of analogies, of anecdotes, and of mysticism. &ldquoExploring Kabul, I found, required the same principles that help in the reading of mystical Persian poetry, in the relationship between the zahir, or the overt, and the batin, the hidden or implied,&rdquo she says. &ldquoThis works on the tacit understanding that what is being said is an allegory for what is meant or intended.&rdquo

Each character in Khan&rsquos book tells us a story of Kabul that we expect to hear. Of the dark times under the Taliban following the collapse of the USSR. The involvement of international communities and their subsequent abandonment. It&rsquos all there, it&rsquos all true, in flesh and blood. But, that&rsquos not what it is about. The book is an experiential read, albeit interspersed with Khan&rsquos reporting. She goes in and out of being part of the story, and being a fly on the wall merely retelling the tales of Kabul itself.

Reading between the lines seems to be a theme that runs true throughout the pages. Khan describes what she sees around. She describes the people she meets, the conversations she has, all the while the city shifts, changes, morphes taking our reading experience with it. The people in her book are simply, people. And their experience of living through war juxtaposed with Khan&rsquos description of warmth, of laughter, and of humanity.

Khan&rsquos poetic description of her book is a thematic refrain that appears often in the text. The tales of Saleem and his lover, of Murad and his family, of Doctor Sahab and his doves, all woven into a similar idea. &ldquoTo talk of the moon, for instance, is to talk of the beloved to talk of clouds across the moon is to talk of the pain of separated lovers to talk of walls is to speak of exile,&rdquo she explains. &ldquoIt is also a useful reminder that in this city, what is seen is often simply one aspect of the truth. What lies behind&mdash the shadow city&mdashis where layers are revealed.&rdquo

She draws inspiration, and parallels, from her life in India. How growing up in Aligarh as a woman prepared her for her experiences in Kabul that were strikingly similar, yet worlds apart. She talks of history, of politics, of cinema, and of love&mdashwith the same lens of the obvious against the obscure.

Reading the book, you can not only see Kabul changing, but also Khan&rsquos understanding of it. &ldquoIn the space between what I saw and what I wrote, Kabul twisted its shape and changed,&rdquo she writes. &ldquoIt has changed again, even as you read it. Bood, nabood.&rdquo

As for the reader, we won&rsquot call this book a walking guide to Kabul. Rather, it&rsquos an atlas of Kabuli experiences. It doesn&rsquot paint a tragic picture, it talks about the celebrations of life and the lives of the characters that Khan interacts with. It&rsquos a narrative of the good and the bad, of hardships and triumphs, of laughter and love just like life itself.

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