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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Nadeem Aslam is an award-winning British novelist. He was born in Pakistan. He set his latest novel in post-9/11 Afghanistan. It's called "The Wasted Vigil." Alan Cheuse has this review.

ALAN CHEUSE: Afghanistan, in this new novel, is a vast field of human misery, physical distress, and wounds, both physical and psychic, inflicted by the Taliban and the warlords who have taken over in their wake. A number of fascinating characters gather in a villa in the countryside near a town currently being fought over by two warlords. Each has a quest. Each is essentially thwarted by circumstance and history.

Marcus, a one-handed British physician, who with his late wife, viciously murdered by the Taliban, attended for decades to the needs of the local population; David, a pensive former CIA agent; And finally Casa, an Islamic fanatic passing as a casualty of war. So the perspective from this novelist about contemporary Afghanistan is enlightening, if given to pessimism as David, the ex-spy, meditates on the subject, what did they, the Americans, really know about such parts of the world, of the layer upon layer of savagery that made them up? They had arrived in these places without realizing how fragile were the defenses that most people had erected against cruelty and degradation here, conducting a life with the light of a firefly.

Nadeem Aslam's light shines much more brightly, but the misery, religious murders, and hypocrisy, fear, and hopelessness it revealed was almost more than I could take. Aslam's window onto Islamic fundamentalism and the mores of contemporary Afghanistan, the colors of life there, the intensity of death. Have you read "The Kite Runner?" This novel makes that book seem like a Hallmark greeting card.

NORRIS: "The Wasted Vigil" is by British writer Nadeem Aslam. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse.

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