Synopses & Reviews
In 2005, a group of Afghan actors endeavored to create an unusual dramatic performanceandmdash;one that would bring theater to a region wounded after years of war with the Taliban and offer hope for healing. A Night in the Emperorandrsquo;s Garden
is the captivating account of their resulting play and a rich exploration of the regionandrsquo;s culture.
In preparation, for five months, the group tirelessly reworked Shakespeareandrsquo;s Loveandrsquo;s Labourandrsquo;s Lost into their own Dari language while the members brought their own experiences to the interpretation. One actor was a police detective and widow determined to create images of strong women. Another had trained at Kabul University before fleeing to Pakistan as a refugee. A third had played the title role in the acclaimed film Osama, yet was a beggar who could barely read and write. Joined by a French actress who served as director and several other enthusiasts, these actors performed before royalty and street vendors alike for one night amid the ruins of a magnificent garden laid out five centuries earlier by Emperor Babur. For the first time in thirty years, men and women stood on stage together as they worked toward a new era in Afghanistan.
Qais Akbar Omar and Stephen Landrigan, both involved in the production, have captured its exuberance and optimism along with the actorsandrsquo; joys and sorrows in the decade following the play. Revealing a side of Afghanistan largely unknown to outsiders, A Night in the Emperorandrsquo;s Garden tells the magical story of an artistic achievement with universal appeal.
"A haunting ethnography of Afghanistan after the American invasion, journalist Gopal's nonfiction debut tells the stories of three individuals to create a picture of the situation in Afghanistan. Gopal spent hundreds of hours interviewing a Taliban commander, a member of the U.S.-backed Afghan government, and a village housewife. He presents a stirring critique of American forces who commanded overwhelming firepower, but lacked the situational knowledge to achieve their objectives. Men with the ear of American commanders often took advantage of their credulity to destroy their enemies, making little effort to determine their affiliations. Gopal writes of one hapless bus driver, who spent nearly five years in Guantanamo and was prohibited from presenting evidence that he was not a member of the Taliban, because there was 'no accusation against ' that suggested this affiliation. Heela, the housewife, has the most remarkable story of the three: in closing pages of the book she becomes a senator, unaware until winning that she was even in the running. Gopal reveals the fragility of the tenuous connection between intention and destiny in a war-torn land. (May)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
A New York Times Book Review Editors Choice
“Gopals book is essential reading for anyone concerned about how America got Afghanistan so wrong. It is a devastating, well-honed prosecution detailing how our government bungled the initial salvo in the so-called war on terror, ignored attempts by top Taliban leaders to surrender, trusted the wrong people and backed a feckless and corrupt Afghan regime. . . . It is ultimately the most compelling account Ive read of how Afghans themselves see the war.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Astonishing stories. . . Such investigative reporting is very rare in Afghanistan, where foreign journalists have been targets since 2001. Gopal pursued his stories into the most active centers of the insurgency. He learned Dari and—more difficult—Pushtu. He won the trust of insurgent leaders. But his real genius lies in binding all these sources together and combining them with thousands of hours of interviews. . . . All this allows him to bring life to figures who have hitherto been caricatures.”
—The New York Review of Books
“A brilliant analysis of our militarys dysfunction and a startlingly clear account of the consequences.”
“Extraordinary . . . Brilliantly written . . . Gopals method of going deep into the lives of several Talibs, warlords, and ordinary Afghans—he includes an exhilarating portrait of one Afghan woman—demonstrates how different the Americans ‘mistakes feel when the dead, injured, and traumatized people have been amply humanized.”
“With a plethora of policy-oriented works on Afghanistan having appeared in recent years, Anand Gopal wisely chooses to tell the wars story from the personal perspective of three characters.… Gopal displays a keen understanding of the levers of power in Afghan society and their sometimes devastating effect on individuals trying to make their way in the world.”
—Los Angeles Times
“The level of craftsmanship in this book is often awe-inspiring. . . . Provides unique insights into Americas intervention in Afghanistan and makes important contributions to our understanding of the conflict there.”
“Haunting . . . Presents a stirring critique of American forces who commanded overwhelming firepower, but lacked the situational knowledge to achieve their objectives . . . Gopal reveals the fragility of the tenuous connection between intention and destiny in a war-torn land.”
“Gopal puts the present Afghanistan in perspective . . . He presents his analysis of Afghanistan through three individuals: Mullah Cable, a Taliban commander; Jan Muhammad, a member of the U.S.-backed Afghan government; and Heela, a village housewife. His portraits of these three and their tumultuous lives are rich in detail, as are his descriptions of their stark and war-ravaged land.”
“Original and stimulating . . . Policymakers and informed readers will benefit immensely from this illuminating book.”
“A brilliant, incisive work of storytelling and analysis. Of all the recent books on Afghanistan, this one stands out like a bright shining light, revealing the truth of the war from the ground up. Breathtaking and magnificent, this is a must read.”
—Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia
“If you read one book on Afghanistan today, make it this one. No Good Men Among the Living is a masterfully told narrative of how, after 9/11, the Americans defeated the Taliban only to revive them. An admirable achievement.”
—Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Fall of Baghdad and The Lions Grave
“Anand Gopal, known for his extraordinarily brave firsthand accounts of the Taliban, now tells the story of the Afghan war through stories of the Afghans themselves—whose voices have been notably absent from almost all coverage of the conflict. With its deep reporting and excellent writing, No Good Men Among the Living is destined to became a classic of war reportage.”
—Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad
andldquo;Absolutely charmingandmdash;touching, hilariousandmdash;and very different to all the depressing war tomes on Afghanistan.andrdquo;
andldquo;The story is alternately funny, poignant, and inspiring, providing a glimpse into another Afghanistan.andrdquo;
andldquo;A Night in the Emperorandrsquo;s Garden
is an illuminating and deeply moving bookandmdash;a startling exploration of Shakespearean mobility, a tribute to the subversive power of the theater, and a poignant account of the tragic dilemmas of contemporary Afghanistan. It is an unforgettable story about courage, artistic ambition, and moral determination in the face of murderous violence.andrdquo;
As U.S. troops prepare to withdraw, the shocking tale of how the American military had triumph in sight in Afghanistan—and then brought the Taliban back from the dead
In the popular imagination, Afghanistan is often regarded as the site of intractable conflict, the American war against the Taliban a perpetually hopeless quagmire. But as Anand Gopal demonstrates in this stunning chronicle, top Taliban leaders were in fact ready to surrender within months of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, renouncing all political activity and submitting to the new government. Effectively, the Taliban ceased to exist—yet the American forces were not ready to accept such a turnaround. Driven by false intelligence from corrupt warlords and by a misguided conviction that Taliban members could never change sides, the U.S. instead continued to press the conflict, resurrecting the insurgency that persists to this day.
Gopals dramatic narrative, full of vivid personal detail, follows three Afghans through years of U.S. missteps: a Taliban commander, a U.S.-backed warlord, and a housewife trapped in the middle of the fighting. With its intimate accounts of life in small Afghan villages, and harrowing tales of crimes committed by Taliban leaders and American-supported provincial officials alike, No Good Men Among the Living lays bare the workings of Americas longest war and the truth behind its prolonged agony. A thoroughly original exposé of the conflict that is still being fought, it shows just how the American intervention went so desperately wrong.
Told through the lives of three Afghans, the stunning tale of how the United States had triumph in sight in Afghanistan—and then brought the Taliban back from the dead
In a breathtaking chronicle, acclaimed journalist Anand Gopal traces in vivid detail the lives of three Afghans caught in Americas war on terror. He follows a Taliban commander, who rises from scrawny teenager to leading insurgent; a US-backed warlord, who uses the American military to gain personal wealth and power; and a village housewife trapped between the two sides, who discovers the devastating cost of neutrality.
Through their dramatic stories, Gopal shows that the Afghan war, so often regarded as a hopeless quagmire, could in fact have gone very differently. Top Taliban leaders actually tried to surrender within months of the US invasion, renouncing all political activity and submitting to the new government. Effectively, the Taliban ceased to exist—yet the Americans were unwilling to accept such a turnaround. Instead, driven by false intelligence from their allies and an unyielding mandate to fight terrorism, American forces continued to press the conflict, resurrecting the insurgency that persists to this day.
With its intimate accounts of life in war-torn Afghanistan, Gopals thoroughly original reporting lays bare the workings of Americas longest war and the truth behind its prolonged agony. A heartbreaking story of mistakes and misdeeds, No Good Men Among the Living challenges our usual perceptions of the Afghan conflict, its victims, and its supposed winners.
About the Author
Qais Akbar Omar is the author of A Fort of Nine Towers, which has been published in over twenty languages, and has written for the New York Times and the Atlantic. A graduate of the creative writing program at Boston University, he is currently a Scholars at Risk fellow at Harvard University.Stephen Landrigan is a playwright and former journalist for the Washington Post and BBC Radio. He lives in Massachusetts, where he tends a small orchard near Boston.
Table of Contents
1. The Last Days of Vice and Virtue 5
2. The Battle for Tirin Kot 28
3 The War from Year Zero 50
4. The Sewing Center of Khas Uruzgan 73
5. No One Is Safe from This 101
6. To Make the Bad Things Good Again 118
7. Black Holes 132
8. Election Day 151
9. The Far End of the Bazaar 169
10. Back to Work 183
11. The Tangi 199
12. No-Mans-Land 215
13. Stepping Out 239
14. The Leader 251
A Note on Sources 277