Synopses & Reviews
An intrepid journalist joins the planetand#8217;s largest group of nomads on an annual migration that, like them, has endured for centuries.
Anna Badkhen has forged a career chronicling life in extremis around the world, from war-torn Afghanistan to the border regions of the American Southwest. In Walking with Abel, she embeds herself with a family of Fulani cowboysand#151;nomadic herders in Maliand#8217;s Sahel grasslandsand#151;as they embark on their annual migration across the savanna. Itand#8217;s a cycle that connects the Fulani to their past even as their present is increasingly under threatand#151;from Islamic militants, climate change, and the ever-encroaching urbanization that lures away their young. The Fulani, though, are no strangers to uncertaintyand#151;brilliantly resourceful and resilient, theyand#8217;ve contended with famines, droughts, and wars for centuries.
Dubbed and#147;Anna Baand#8221; by the nomads, who embrace her as one of theirs, Badkhen narrates the Fulaniand#8217;s journeys and her own with compassion and keen observation, transporting us from the Neolithic Sahara crisscrossed by rivers and abundant with wildlife to obelisk forests where the Fulaniand#8217;s Stone Age ancestors painted tributes to cattle. As they cross the Sahel, the savanna belt that stretches from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, they accompany themselves with Fulani music they download to their cell phones and tales of herders and hustlers, griots and holy men, infused with the myths the Fulani tell themselves to ground their past, make sense of their identity, and safeguard theirand#151;ourand#151;future.
"Like so many pieces of yarn, [Badkhen] weaves the words of Persian poets, Western explorers, contemporary journalists and scholars into her narrative, enriching her own account with those that came before… a powerful, unsentimental study of life persisting in extreme conditions. Perhaps the greatest testament to her success is that, upon reading the final page, the reader wonders how the people populating her narrative are faring, and desperately hopes that they are all right." -The New York Observer
“Capture[s] the fatalistic ambience of a place where opium addiction is rampant, mobile phones are an impossible luxury and the Taliban lurk in the shadows.” -The New York Times Book Review
“Transporting… even in this harshest of environments, Badkhen is able to capture kinship, laughter, and merriment… At the risk of spouting clichés (but dont they become such because of the universal truths buried within?), Badkhen weaves her own literary magic.” -Christian Science Monitor
“Intrepid… Season by season, rite by rite, encounter by encounter, thread by illuminating thread, Badkhen weaves a glorious prose carpet that poignantly captures the surface and the soul of life in Oqa, and in all the Oqas that grace the loom of Afghanistan.” -National Geographic
“This book will leave you entertained, informed and heartbroken. It will allow you not only to imagine another place but also to bear witness to a community of cultural producers and preservers of the highest skill whose women are able to create objects of beauty amid poverty, hardship and bloodshed.” -Toronto Star
“Anna Badkhen is the latest chronicler to show how great beauty can come out of great deprivation… borders on the sublime. The World is a Carpet is a well-spun tale of a remote world we rarely see.” -Financial Times
"The World Is a Carpet will give readers a better understanding of this mysterious land and the courageous and determined people who live there… gorgeous… a lovely treasure unearthed from beneath those shifting desert sands." -Dayton Daily News
"Badkhen makes friends and shares their stories, drawing readers into this small village where the dream of wealth is hope for a life without suffering… A beautifully written book of eternal heartbreak." -Booklist (starred review)
"Badkhen gains astonishing access… More travelogue than reportage, her prose is rich and unhurried, evoking the harshness of the desolate landscape. Oqa's isolation means Osama bin Laden may be unknown, but the Taliban is not; their presence an inescapable fact of life, one that propels Badkhen's story to a simple yet chilling dénouement." -Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A fearless author regards the Afghans on their own terms… Enormously detailed and moving… a dense, intimate portrayal of an ancient people.” -Kirkus
"In an age when writers too often see Afghanistan from behind guarded compound walls, Badkhen places herself alone, for a year, in rural Afghanistan. This perspective—animated by her love of the country, and her hosts—yields a remarkable account of the rhythms, the wit, and the energy of village life." -Rory Stewart, author of The Places in Between
"Nearly a hundred and eighty degrees around the globe, and even farther from our imagining, Anna Badkhen captures with an unerring eye—and just as powerfully, in the haunting cadences of her narrative—the strange, harsh beauty of an unvanquished way of life." -William Langewiesche, author of Sahara Unveiled, American Ground, and The Outlaw Sea
Praise for The World Is a Carpet
and#8220;A powerful, unsentimental study of life persisting in extreme conditions.and#8221; and#8212;The New York Observer
and#8220;Transporting and#8230; even in this harshest of environments, Badkhen is able to capture kinship, laughter, and merriment. . . . [She] weaves her own literary magic.and#8221; and#8212;The Christian Science Monitor
An unforgettable portrait of a place and a people shaped by centuries of art, trade, and war.
In the middle of the salt-frosted Afghan desert, in a village so remote that Google can’t find it, a woman squats on top of a loom, making flowers bloom in the thousand threads she knots by hand. Here, where heroin is cheaper than rice, every day is a fast day. B-52s pass overhead—a sign of America’s omnipotence or its vulnerability, the villagers are unsure. They know, though, that the earth is flat—like a carpet.
Anna Badkhen first traveled to this country in 2001, as a war correspondent. She has returned many times since, drawn by a land that geography has made a perpetual battleground, and by a people who sustain an exquisite tradition there. Through the four seasons in which a new carpet is woven by the women and children of Oqa, she immortalizes their way of life much as the carpet does—from the petal half-finished where a hungry infant needs care to the interruptions when the women trade sex jokes or go fill in for wedding musicians scared away by the Taliban. As Badkhen follows the carpet out into the world beyond, she leaves the reader with an indelible portrait of fates woven by centuries of art, war, and an ancient trade that ultimately binds the invaded to the invader.
About the Author
Anna Badkhen has written about wars on four continents, including the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Chechnya. Her reporting has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, Guernica, and other publications. She is the author of Afghanistan by Donkey, Waiting for the Taliban, Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories, and The World Is a Carpet: Four Seasons in an Afghan Village. Her latest book, Walking with Abel, is forthcoming from Riverhead in Summer 2015.