Book Review: 99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai

99 Nights in LogarAbout the Book

Me and Gul and Zia and Dawoud out on the roads of Logar, together, for the first time, hoping to get Budabash back home before nightfall

It is 2005 in Logar, Afghanistan, and twelve-year-old Marwand has returned from America with his family for the summer. He loses the tip of his finger to the village dog, Budabash, who then escapes. Marwand’s quest to find Budabash, over 99 nights, begins.

The resulting search is an exuberantly told adventure, one that takes Marwand and his cousins across Logar, through mazes, into floods and unexpected confrontations with American soldiers. Moving between celebrations and tragedies, Marwand must confront family secrets and his own identity as he returns to a home he’s missed for six years. Deeply humorous and surprisingly tender, 99 Nights in Logar is a vibrant exploration of the power of stories – the ones we tell each other, and the ones we find ourselves in.

Format: ebook, paperback (285 pp.)    Publisher: Bloomsbury
Published: 8th January 2019          Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

Built partly around the story of a road trip Marwand and his three companions make in search of the escaped Budabash, 99 Nights in Logar is an insight into Afghan culture, the recent turbulent history of that country and an exploration of storytelling. Told in the narrative style and colloquial speech of a teenage boy, Marwand’s experiences are interspersed with lists, travellers’ stories, cautionary tales and Islamic hadiths.

In the book, stories function as a source of entertainment, an expression of a shared culture and history, and as a repository of received wisdom. Inventiveness and creativity in the act of storytelling is valued and celebrated. At one point, it’s even what tips the balance when considering an offer of marriage.

I enjoyed learning about Afghan culture and liked the colourful characterization of Marwand’s companions: Zia – religiously devout; Gul – a natural leader and influencer; and Dawoud – fond of his food.   I also enjoyed the idiosyncratic style of the narrative and its fable-like quality.

However, there were a number of things that made this a difficult and slightly disappointing read for me.  Firstly, the frequent use of dialect words with no glossary to refer to.  Secondly, the size of Marwand’s extended families of uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. and the various ways they were referred to (not always by name but by relationship to someone else) meant I found it difficult to keep track of who everyone was. There was also a section just before the final chapter (the promised ‘true story’ referred to frequently in the book) in Arabic script with no translation provided. I’m unsure if the latter was deliberate on the part of the author or publishers, or just because I was reading an advance review copy.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Bloomsbury, and NetGalley.

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In three words: Imaginative, coming-of-age, colourful

Try something similar…Wake Me When I’m Gone by Odafe Atogun (read my review here)

About the Author

Jamil Jan Kochai was born in Pakistan and grew up in the United States. He has a Masters in English from UC Davis and is a Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in A Public Space, Ploughshares, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. 99 Nights in Logar is his debut novel.

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