Review: A Door in the Earth

by Amy Waldman (Little, Brown and Company, 2019)

One of my favorite novels of 2019. Author Amy Waldman opens a door into contemporary Afghanistan in this character-driven literary novel. The protagonist is idealistic, recent UC Berkeley grad Parveen, who was born in Kabul but raised in California. Parveen craves connection with her cultural roots and also seeks to learn more about how diverse cultures approach women's healthcare. Inspired by a bestselling memoir written by a doctor who’d established a maternal health clinic in rural Afghanistan; she receives a grant to do anthropological research in the same village. While Parveen adjusts to pre-industrial rhythms of village life, the occupying American military begins to build a new road nearby. Pressures escalate. Parveen’s naiveté collides with realities of American occupation, insurgent activism, women's everyday lives, and ancient Afghan traditions. She also discovers a deep canyon of intellectual dishonesty--the story the (white, male, outsider) doctor told is at odds with facts Parveen learns from her hosts. Waldman worked as a journalist reporting for the New York Times - South Asia bureau. Vivid details of life and conflict in contemporary Afghanistan ring with truth and heartbreak. This timely, essential novel connects the personal with the political on many levels. Provocative themes for book groups, medical practitioners, or those contemplating travel, cross-cultural work, or military service overseas.

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Karen Lewis