99 Nights in Logar

Penguin. Jan. 2019. 288p. ISBN 9780525559191. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780525559207. F
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.]
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