The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam - review by Lindy Burleigh

Lindy Burleigh

Land of Poets & Blood

The Wasted Vigil


Faber & Faber 372pp £17.99

In Nadeem Aslam’s latest novel, set in post-9/11 Afghanistan, Casa, a young radicalised recruit to al-Qaeda, says angrily of the West: ‘Two of their buildings fell down and they think they know about the world’s darkness, about how unsafe a place it is capable of being!’ The Afghan people by contrast have never known anything other than darkness and terror, and The Wasted Vigil is a harrowing portrayal of people caught up in endless war. Since the Soviet invasion of 1979, their country’s history has been a succession of ‘killing epochs’ and ‘its geology has become fear not rock’ – with two million dead, the circling vultures have developed a taste for human flesh. Once the most ‘turbulent province of the British Empire’, Afghanistan is now the site on which the ‘war on terror’ is being bitterly fought out between American-led NATO forces and the pro-al-Qaeda Taliban.

Aslam, a Pakistani, is well versed in the complex politics and history of the region, but his interest is in the ‘broken’ lives that war leaves in its wake, and thus the narrative follows the fortunes of six people from different continents, cultures and generations who are brought together by

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