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The World Is a Carpet: Four Seasons in an Afghan Village [Kindle Edition]

Anna Badkhen
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $7.99
You Save: $8.01 (50%)
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

An unforgettable portrait of a place and a people shaped by centuries of art, trade, and war.

In the middle of the salt-frosted Afghan desert, in a village so remote that Google can’t find it, a woman squats on top of a loom, making flowers bloom in the thousand threads she knots by hand. Here, where heroin is cheaper than rice, every day is a fast day. B-52s pass overhead—a sign of America’s omnipotence or its vulnerability, the villagers are unsure. They know, though, that the earth is flat—like a carpet.

Anna Badkhen first traveled to this country in 2001, as a war correspondent. She has returned many times since, drawn by a land that geography has made a perpetual battleground, and by a people who sustain an exquisite tradition there. Through the four seasons in which a new carpet is woven by the women and children of Oqa, she immortalizes their way of life much as the carpet does—from the petal half-finished where a hungry infant needs care to the interruptions when the women trade sex jokes or go fill in for wedding musicians scared away by the Taliban. As Badkhen follows the carpet out into the world beyond, she leaves the reader with an indelible portrait of fates woven by centuries of art, war, and an ancient trade that ultimately binds the invaded to the invader.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The trials and tribulations desperately poor Oqa, a hamlet in northern Afghanistan so remote that regional officials don't even know it exists, comes to life through the story of Thawra, a carpet weaver, and her family. Badkhen, a Russian-born war correspondent, charts the woman's work over a year of weddings, childbirth, Ramadan, and winter snowstorms. Amid the tedium and grinding poverty—made bearable by opium for the young and old alike—the local Turkoman women have over the centuries earned the distinction of producing some of the finest carpets in the world. It's an existence that Westerners can scarcely comprehend, Thawra's family surviving on less than a dollar a day, earned for an exquisite piece of craftsmanship that will command thousands in the US. Badkhen gains astonishing access to male-only gatherings, earning their lasting respect, and ably documents the infinitesimal though significant influence that Thawra has as breadwinner in this patriarchal society. More travelogue than reportage, her prose is rich and unhurried, evoking the harshness of the desolate landscape. Oqa's isolation means Osama bin Laden may be unknown, but the Taliban is not; their presence an inescapable fact of life, one that propels Badkhen's story to a simple yet chilling dénouement. (June)

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Journalist Badkhen traveled to the northern Afghan village of Oqa (“so remote that Google can’t find it”) and immersed herself in the villagers’ lives over four seasons as she watched Turkoman women weave one of their legendary rugs. In the sparest of language, she tells a heartbreakingly familiar story: the village is suffering its second year of drought; hunger is common; addiction to opium, used to mask hunger pangs, begins at birth; and war is simply another day of life. The carpet is a work of art, the family’s financial salvation, and the hallmark of a woman’s value. Badkhen tracks the carpet’s travels around the world to a place the people of Oqa can scarcely imagine, noting the history of the lands it crosses and the conflicts that have always raged. Badkhen makes friends and shares their stories, drawing readers into this small village where the dream of wealth is hope for a life without suffering. The irony is that, as their carpets garner great sums, money never reaches the place where they are created or those who need the money so desperately. A beautifully written book of eternal heartbreak. --Colleen Mondor

Product Details

  • File Size: 5113 KB
  • Print Length: 289 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1594488320
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (May 30, 2013)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #363,143 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine Ethnographic Journalism; Bleak Reading May 5, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Earlier reviewers are doing a fine job of describing this work! What can I contribute? Yes, the language used is intensely poetic--full of images and metaphors. As a result, today's readers either get used to it or one finds it a bit artificial by about the middle of the book.

Looked at from the standpoint of world literature: the author certainly respects the idea of unities of time and place and of effect. She writes a lot like Emile Zola, the French novelist of social reform. This story reminds me of the endless grey and grime and drudgery of 'Germinal', his story about coal miners.

The World Is A Carpet begins with the wanderlust of 'travellers.' The author admits she is drawn to wild and desolate places in the way of Sir Richard Burton and Wilfred Thesiger and T. E. Lawrence. She feels a compulsion to write about a land and a people ravaged in every way imaginable--by time, by climate, by war, by endemic disease. These are a people--men, women and children--who are trapped in an interlocking and unremitting web of hunger, ignorance, drug addiction, brutality and the machinations of foreign powers like America and Russia.

Focusing on women's lives, what little beauty they can see comes from their ancient proficiency in carpet weaving and is the product of their ancestral imaginations and cyclical toil. In this subsistence life, a single woman and her female helpers weave but one fine carpet each year. Its sale provides a crucial margin between hunger and outright starvation for them and their families. The purchase of yarn to make carpets keeps some families continually in debt. Through Anna Badkhen's eye of the journalist and taste for ethnographic description, we can 'look in on' a year in the life of one such family and their village neighbours. She presents a view that most of us would never see otherwise and she puts human and community 'faces' on the endless cycles of violence in that region.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Afghan Women Carpet herstory c. 2012 April 7, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"The World Is A Carpet" by Anna Badkhen (Spring 2013). I do great injustice to this book by summarizing it as an interesting, sad story about how an impoverished, pregnant, opium-chewing Afghan tribal woman in a dusty, leaking, mud-and-dung-wall hut slowly toils away on a rickety, hand-made loom in weaving a carpet for resale to buy food for her malnourished family. How a carpet enwraps the life-story of its female weavers. The Russian-born female author has mastered the English language well. For almost on every other page I found a sentence that caused me to pause and think: "Wow, now that was an interesting, well-written sentence full of alliteration" that seduced me in reading it again - just for the beauty of its well-nourished phrasing. (The author should be teaching English comp somewhere.) Her writing embraces the reader into feeling that you are sitting alongside her story's characters. This book is not an extensive travelogue to be used for backpackers seeking seldom-visited, unspoiled "Garden of Eden" hamlets somewhere in Afghanistan (I understand they once existed). Nor is it a serious socio-cultural analysis of the hopes and dreams of Afghan women who pack donkey droppings into eco-friendly paddies to fuel the family hearth - a warming story. Nor does it provide an in-depth political analysis of the Karzi regime, nor does it give any musings about the theological beliefs of the Islam-infused Tablian who terrorize women into being submissive, almost un-seeable chador-enshrouded Zombies. It is an enjoyable, fast-paced, easy read, long "short story" full of dreary hopelessness amongst a sometimes beautiful landscape. Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Each of us flawed, and so, complete." May 28, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Seasons change, all around the world. In a war zone like Afghanistan, sometimes the only other constant are those seasons. As the seasons change, a carpet is made. Created with yarn from the last of the savings, just enough to make a runner instead of a full carpet. A runner that is, hopefully, beautiful enough to bring in enough money to make it through another winter. A carpet that speaks to the every day struggle to survive in a village that few even know exists. A village like many others in Afghanistan - laden with opium addiction, the poorest of the poor, and a singular skill at making the most beautiful carpets that will sell for thousands of dollars elsewhere. Carpets that are only complete, and that much more valuable, for the flaws of life woven into them. That village is Oqa.

Anna Badkhen uses her own singular skill of weaving with words to create this beautiful story. It is not a book that can be read with speed or in large, it must be slowly enjoyed as one would a beautiful carpet. Little pieces at a time, in order to fully appreciate the nuance of the whole. So much pain and hunger, fear and even despair, and yet so much beauty as well. And above all, I think, an appreciation of a life lived day by day, creating life as the beauty in the carpet is created.

It's a lovely book, and yet a hard one as well. Make a cup of tea, sit for a spell, and let the story of the creation of a singular carpet bespell you. For magic this carpet is - magic enough to weave life, and magic enough to keep it going. And in the end, isn't that what magic truly is?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Liked it.
Published 3 months ago by Gloria T. Avelino
4.0 out of 5 stars An Isolated Afghanistan village
This book provides an excellent picture of life in a small, isolated village in Afghanistan.
Sometimes I felt there was too much description of scenery, but I know this is... Read more
Published 9 months ago by log
4.0 out of 5 stars Great story; style forced
This story carried me forward even though the author seems to go out of her way to find fresh ways to say things. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Edward H. Pitts
2.0 out of 5 stars I would have been more interested reading a thesaurus
***I received an ARC of this book in exchange for a review***
There's no other way to explain it; I would rather have been reading a thesaurus or a dictionary. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Trish Arrowsmith
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous
This is a must read for everyone who owns or has even walked on a beautiful carpet. Look underneath for the sticky fingerprints of a four year old girl.
Published 15 months ago by Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars quite perfect
this time capsule is beautifully presented, wrapped with warm deep red carpet wool for tangible effect. the story is pertinant, current, gorgeous, frightening, sorrowful - life. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Danielle E.
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile trip!
I love the idea of living in a remote part of Afghanistan and living among one family of rug makers and seeing a rug created from start to finish. Read more
Published 17 months ago by traveler
4.0 out of 5 stars Afghanistan--viewed in a new way
"The World is a Carpet" by Anna Badkhen is the story of a woman's journey in rural Afghanistan. The author has a very evocative way of describing landscapes and people, and this... Read more
Published 19 months ago by K. Kennedy
2.0 out of 5 stars Very drawn out and repetitious
Not what I expected and would not recommend it. Read other books on Afghan and learned more and kept me interested.
Published 19 months ago by John&Carol Huggard
5.0 out of 5 stars A lyrical inside view of life in an Afghan village
This account of life in a little known Afghan village is woven around the
cultural practice of women weaving traditional carpets. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Chansonette
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More About the Author

Anna Badkhen writes about people in extremis. She is the author of "The World Is a Carpet," "Afghanistan by Donkey," "Waiting for the Taliban," and "Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories." Her next book, "Walking with Abel," comes out in 2015. Badkhen's reporting from four continents, including the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Chechnya, has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, and other publications.

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