by Andrea Lenser
99 Nights in Logar, authored by Jamil Jan Kochai, tells the story of Marwand, a twelve-year-old child visiting his family in war-ridden Afghanistan. After spending only a couple of days in his family’s village, the tip of Marwand’s finger is bitten off by the formidable but beloved guard dog, Budabash. Marwand and his cousins, Gul, Dawood, and Zia, then vow to capture the escaped beast and return him home.
The novel takes a turn from its initial storyline when Marwand is forced to return to his family’s compound. Gul went missing in a seemingly endless maze of compounds and Dawood fell sick, so Marwand forfeited the search in hope that he and his cousins could make it home alive.
The middle portions of the book outline the various occurrences and hardships that Marwand’s family endured, such as a double engagement, an outbreak of land seasickness, and tension between family members.
Later, Marwand attends a family member’s wedding dressed as a girl in an effort to snap a photo for his cousin Gul, but is then exposed as a fake. He then escapes into the maze of compounds that nearly claimed Gul’s life. In the heart of the maze, Marwand discovers a tunnel filled with bones. He crawls in this tunnel until it opens up into a cave, where further adventures ensue.
Littered throughout the novel are stories, some true and some fiction, that reveal past mistakes and the fate of Marwand’s family. One story in particular that was never completed was the tale of Marwand’s Uncle Watak. The final part of the book is the exhaustive story of Uncle Watak, written in untranslated Pashto.
While this novel is an extraordinary example of coming-of-age literature, it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Cultural elements and words unique to Afghan civilizations are common occurrences in the book, making it difficult for people of different cultures to understand and relate to the characters. On the plus side, this book teaches readers about a culture different than their own. Not every detail will be understood, but it’s the immersion in a new culture that makes this book stand out from the crowd.