Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Dispatches from the Kabul Cafe

Journalist Heidi Kingstone creates a number of sketches that when drawn together provide a fascinating insight into life in war torn Afghanistan. Living in the expat community between 2007 and 2011, Kingstone takes out her journalistic pen to create an overall picture of life illuminated by an array of characters.

The different incites take in mercenaries, soldiers, cleaners, NGO workers, fashionistas, activists and just people struggling to get by in a war torn country. It is not all blood and destruction though, with Kingstone able to convey a real love for Afghanistan and its people – something that is all too rare in accounts written about that country over the past few decades.
The author has an ability to adopt an objective detached position, whilst giving real insight to the individuals concerned. Remarkably, she even manages to achieve this feat regarding those with whom she has passing relationships. These accounts add a certain amount of spice and perspective to proceedings.
Kingstone lived for most of the period in Kabul, working for various publications, whilst trying to illuminate the story of womens rights. This theme comes through in the various different sketches from the revolutionary girl Hasina to Dunia, the cleaner who doesn’t like cleaning but loves to dance. What does come over strongly is the problem of westerners trying to impose their concept of rights - without ever really acquainting themselves as to what Afghani women are up against in a deeply chauvinistic society.

Dispatches from the Kabul CafĂ© offers a glimpse of life in Afghanistan, through real lives. At times the reader would like to know more and maybe have a stronger narrative thread between sketches but overall a comprehensive picture is presented. It gives a taste of life in a war torn country by blending together accounts of the people who live there and those coming into “help.”

The great strength of the book is that whilst it brings home scenes of poverty and death, there is never a move toward cloying pity. The Afghanis come out as a proud people, whose land has been abused but remains a fantastic place to be. There is much joy and excitement in daily life in Kabul. There is also that buzz of life as a reporter in a war zone, on the edge, with the constant threat of death.

A number of Kingstone’s friends die either during or after her time in Afghanistan. There is also something of an intrigue about Kingstone herself, the book offers  insights into her personality that draw the reader in to want to know more about subject and its scribe – a job well done.
- published by Advance Edition, price £10.99

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