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.
"The trials and tribulations desperately poor Oqa, a hamlet in northern Afghanistan so remote that regional officials don't even know it exists, comes to life through the story of Thawra, a carpet weaver, and her family. Badkhen, a Russian-born war correspondent, charts the woman's work over a year of weddings, childbirth, Ramadan, and winter snowstorms. Amid the tedium and grinding poverty made bearable by opium for the young and old alike the local Turkoman women have over the centuries earned the distinction of producing some of the finest carpets in the world. It's an existence that Westerners can scarcely comprehend, Thawra's family surviving on less than a dollar a day, earned for an exquisite piece of craftsmanship that will command thousands in the US. Badkhen gains astonishing access to male-only gatherings, earning their lasting respect, and ably documents the infinitesimal though significant influence that Thawra has as breadwinner in this patriarchal society. 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 dÃ©nouement. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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 canandrsquo;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 overheadandmdash;a sign of Americaandrsquo;s omnipotence or its vulnerability, the villagers are unsure. They know, though, that the earth is flatandmdash;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 doesandmdash;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.