The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories

Viking. Jul. 2022. 288p. ISBN 9780593297193. $25. F
Following up the Pen/Hemingway finalist 99 Nights in Logar, Kochai offers extraordinary stories embracing Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora in language that’s scathing, sharply whittled, and sometimes absurdist or even surreal. An obsessive video-gaming teenager, resigned to killing fighters onscreen that resemble his father, actually spots him and a now-dead uncle in a game and seeks to rescue them, while U.S.-based husband-and-wife doctors who have returned to Kabul for a year end up stitching together the multiple pulsing pieces of their son delivered by a kidnapper. In a single-sentence tour de force, a woman whose only surviving son is haranguing her for failing to take her pills shuts him out as she recalls her multiple losses in starkly vivid language that cascades painfully down the page. Elsewhere, PhD candidate Dully Abdul Kareem is transformed into a monkey while passing by his mother as she prays for two brothers recently martyred in Afghanistan. Mother and son travel from California to Afghanistan, where Dully eventually leads a revolt, in a story that effectively recapitulates the attempted occupations, insurgencies, and blood feuds that have pervaded the country for over a century while revealing how much family bonds matter.
VERDICT An acute and original work bringing all readers closer to Afghanistan.
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