Author: Jamil Jan Kochai
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
First Published: 8 January 2019
Rating: 3.5 stars
“The interpreter asked us if we truly meant to find the ghosts of your dead children. ‘Even ghosts need company,’ Jawed said.”
I will start by saying that I was given an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own. Thank you so much to Amber Mears-Brown and the team at Bloomsbury Publishing for sending a copy my way.
Twelve-year-old Marwand’s memories from his previous visit to Afghanistan six years ago center on his contentious relationship with Budabash, the terrifying but beloved dog who guards his extended family’s compound in Logar. Eager to find an ally in this place that’s meant to be “home,” Marwand approaches Budabash the way he would any dog on his American suburban block—and the results are disastrous: Marwand loses a finger and Budabash escapes.
The resulting search for the family dog is an expertly told adventure, a ninety-nine-night quest that sends Marwand and his cousins across the landscape of Logar.
99 Nights in Logar is a wonderful exploration of Afghani culture and the Islamic faith. While the story opens up with Marwand’s search for his family’s missing dog, Budabash, but as the story progresses it pieces together the tales of Logar and its people.
This story reminds me of a mix between A Thousand and One Nights and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Marwand is an unreliable narrator. His creativity and storytelling, adds a magical realism element. It’s like as the stories Marwand learns becomes more fable-like so the narrative adopts that quality.
The setting is vivid and I enjoyed that it was set in a country that I have not read about before. It’s harrowing to see how war has affected Afghanistan and its people for what seems like forever. War plays a huge role in each of the stories Marwand learns. Whether it was the Soviet Union or the Americans. Marwand states that the people of Logar can tell the difference between weapons just from the sound of it.
It’s not all dark and dreary. We also get to see the strength of these people, despite the violence surrounding them. Music, food and family show up time and time again. I also loved that we get the ceremony of an Afghani wedding.
I really enjoyed the inclusion of Arabic words and phrases. However, I will say I wish there was a glossary. While you can piece together the meaning of each word having a glossary will help to keep you engaged in the narrative.
I will say that I think for a story this short there was way too many characters. It was hard to keep track of who was Marwand’s cousin or uncle or aunt. Off the top of my head, I think there were15 people in Marwand’s family, most of who didn’t play a huge role in the story. Unfortunately, that means a lot of the characters aren’t fully developed.
Overall, I think this is an important book, as we aren’t taught a lot about Islamic culture.