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West of Kabul, East of New York: An Afghan American Story Paperback – March 1, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (March 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312421516
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312421519
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Any carping about this being an instant book should be quelled when readers actually encounter Ansary's considered prose prose he himself contrasts to the e-mailed commentary he fired off on September 12 that found its way to millions of readers around the world (including FSG editorial). The e-mail, printed here in an appendix, included such comments as "When you think `Taliban,' think `Nazis.' When you think `Bin Laden,' think `Hitler.' And when you think `the people of Afghanistan,' think `the Jews in the concentration camps.' " Ansary, the son of a Pashtun Afghan father and Finnish-American mother, lived as a Muslim outside of Kabul until the early '60s, when he left on scholarship to attend an American high school, eventually going on to college and becoming an educational writer ("if you have children, they have probably read or used some product I have edited or written") with a family of his own in San Francisco. This book chronicles, with calm insight and honesty, Ansary's feelings at all points: his childhood spent within his "clan" ("our group self was just as real as our individual selves, perhaps more so"), a narrative of his often fascinating 1980 trip ("Looking for Islam") throughout the Muslim world that makes up the bulk of the book, and dissections of the differing paths taken by his sister, brother and himself. While Ansary's political insights can be detached or perhaps purposefully aloof his descriptions of having lived in and identified alternately with the West and the Islamic world are utterly compelling. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Some books are timely by accident, some through a prescience that conveys mystique upon their authors; either makes a writer's reputation. This book is a consequence of specific events last September, intended and only understandable within that recent, collective, and perhaps forever unfixable knowledge. Stripped of that context, this would be an insightful but somewhat plodding autobiography. Ansary, who was raised in pre-Russian-client Afghanistan, the son of an exemplar of that nation's civil elite and of an American his father met while studying abroad, moved to the United States in time to live out college and urban cool in the Sixties and Seventies. But this Afghan American, writing in response to one awful day and in fact extending to book-length some of the notions he posited in a widely read e-mail on September 12, 2001, tells truths about dislocation, heritage, home, family, and religion that both affirm life and profoundly sadden. Ansary's account of how his brother chose to stay "east of New York," of his travels through Muslim communities at the time of the Iranian hostage crisis, and of his personal collision with conspiracy theory are particularly unsettling and worth any reader's time. Recommended for high school, public, and academic libraries of all stripes. Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., PA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

The book is also mercifully short, despite being chock full of information.
Anne B.
The book is a good read and I would suggest that anyone who is interested in culture and learning about Afghan Americans read it.
L. H. Scott
That same feeling of being in the middle and nowhere at the same time is what I most liked about the book.
Christopher S

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
Wow! It is so rare to finish a book in just a few sittings simmply by lack of will-power to tear yourself away from it. Rare still is it to find a non-fictional book having that effect. Buy this one. If you like that feeling of not being able to resist reading "just 10 more pages" and having it turn into 50, you won't regret this book.
In brief, it is about a hyphenated man - born in Afghanistan by an american mother (the first american mother ever to live in Afhanistan) and an Afghani father. By high-school, he has moved to America and 'loses track' of his Afghani roots - truly Americanized. The real 'blow by blow' of the book comes from a trip he took as a freelance journalist back to Afghanistan to write about it before/during the cold war, and his subsequent return to America, ending with his torn feelings over Sept. 11.
The beauty of this book is that he remains sympathetic both to his Afhghani and American sentiments. While recognizing the hell that the middle east can often seem, he never fails to recall his fond memories of growing up Afghani. At the same time, he dances close to the conclusion that he is, for any intent or purpose, an American first and an Afghani second (without ever really imposing that choice upon himself).
As the other reviewers will tell you, the sparkle that is this book came about after the world trade center bombings. The author, who writes educational childrens books for a living, decided to write an e-mail on Sept. 12 to 'set the record straight' seperating the Afghani fact from the Taliban fiction. Subsequently, the e-mail, which he mailed to 20 or so people, got forwarded enough times that it reached possibly 1,000.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Khaled Hosseini on June 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Tamim Ansary's book is a must read for anyone who has even a passing interest in Afghans and Afghanistan. Because what they will discover between the covers is different from most what has been written about Afghanistan since the events of Sept. 11th. Most of that has been about the Taliban, their unforgiving ways, their mistreatment of women. Those are important and riverting stories and they must be told. And they have been. Tamim Ansary's memoir hails back to an Afghanistan most people have forgotten, one I personally remember fondly, an Afghanistan living in peaceful anonymity, a "lost world" of walled villages, extended family networks, a world where instead of television, "we had genealogy." His prose is rich with the sounds and smells of this old world, but it transcends mere nostalgia. Tamim's memories serve as tools for his keen observations about the social and political mores of that time, about ripples in the calm way of life which led in part to the communist coup -see the chapter "Unintended Consequences."
Tamim's book will also resonate with anyone who has ever lived in a foreign land, anyone who has ever felt part of two worlds. Tamim is as American as he is Afghan, maybe more even -his mother is American and Tamim has lived in the U.S. for almost forty years. The book will resonate with anyone who has felt the dissonance of being part of two cultures, strugged to reconcile the two, and -as often happens in such cases -faced a crisis of identity and faith. His trip to the middle east and his hunger to revisit Afghanistan will strike a chord with anyone who has ever wondered about their own roots, anyone who has sought to better understand their religion and ancestry.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Anne B. on August 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book was just one insight after another for me: a door into another world.
I first heard of Ansary when I got a copy of his e-mail, which the book explained also to have been received by millions of other people. When I saw the book on the library shelf, I almost felt as if this was a personal friend, since I'd gotten his letter. I feel even more that way having read this delightful book.
The first part of this book is about the author's childhood in Afghanistan. He weaves a lyrical myth out of his memories. The paperback version has a lovely addendum about his returning to Afhanistan.
The author also contrasts living in a clan to his basement office in California. There arises a clear dialectic between freedom and potential loneliness in the US on the one hand and having connectedness with a clan in Afghanistan, but considerably less freedom (particularly for women), on the other. This is a fascinating thing for Americans to think about.
The second part of the book was about the author's experiences in the US and as an adult travelling through Muslim countries. We learn that the Ansary surname designates a descendant of the people who helped Mohammed escape from Medina. Reading this Ansary's writings, I wonder if he will help Islam escape from the clutches of those horrible fundamentalists. Ansary has very interesting information about the historical roots of fundamentalism in Islam and dissenters from that fundamentalism. He explains how one can be Muslim and not fundamentalist.
The writing quality is excellent: flowing, congenial, sometimes ironic, often deeply sincere, and with a certain innocence and idealism that is particulary wonderful in a middle aged man. Ansary has the ability to enjoy a great diversity of people, not feeling overly judgmental about any of them. The book is also mercifully short, despite being chock full of information. I never got bored.
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