Love and War in Afghanistan
by Alex Klaits and Gulchin Gulmamadova-Klaits
(Seven Stories)

"Even though I was Taliban, I think few people here in our village hold any grudges against me... Everyone understands that in order to have survived here over the last 25 years, it's been necessary at times to do things that we can't be proud of." As a reluctant employee of the Taliban, the things Gulbuddin did include cutting off the hands of thieves, stoning adulterous women, and driving trucks over the bodies of the Uzbek opposition to create a shallow mass grave. At times Afghanistan resembles a Tom Waits song--every soul is tarnished but compassionate.

Instead of regurgitating American pundits and politicians, Love and War in Afghanistan lets Afghans call it as they see it. Dramatic autobiographies unfold in dozen-page chunks, challenging preconceptions about Afghanistan and the nature of humanitarianism. These 14 oral histories include a Ukrainian soldier who defected from the Russian army to join the Mujaheddin, an old woman who recounts the yesteryear of skirts, music and public education, and a chemist who studied on scholarship in Germany under the Soviets and continues to teach even when the paychecks have ceased and education has become an act of dissent.

Warfare, politics and romance are refracted through these various vantage points, but oddly, authors Alex and Gulchin Gulmamadova-Klaits include little discussion of the U.S invasion. Alex Klaits comments, "The day that America started bombing Afghanistan, I decided to quit my desk job in Washington, DC and head to Afghanistan to undertake humanitarian assistance, 'If my government is going to commit itself to destroying,' I told my friends at the time, 'I want to commit myself to rebuilding.' But after I arrived in northeastern Afghanistan (the heart of Northern Alliance sympathizing areas, it's important to add), I was struck by how many Afghans would come up to me and thank me, as an American, for liberating their country." Klaits and his wife, Gulmamadova, a native of Tajikstan, met while working at an international aid agency. True to their book's title, the authors prove the possibilities for love in a region of relentless war.