LEAFY TUNBRIDGE WELLS is an unlikely setting for the beginning of a book about Afghanistan; Kent and Kandahar have little in common that immediately springs to mind. But Tunbridge Wells is where Saira Shah, the author of this lyrical ta'ie, was raised. Much of the book deals with the conflict between East and West, between Shah's upbringing in England and the contradlctions as she sees them in the land of her Afghan forebears. Saira's father, Idries Shah, was a prolific author himself, steeped in the writings and poetry of his native tongue, of men like Sa'adi, Hafiz and Jalaluddin Rumi. Cooking Afghan meals on their old English Aga, this storyteller would spin endless yarns to Saira and her brother and sister about the country he missed so much.
'I am three old,' says Shah in her opening line. 'I am sitting on my father's knee. He is telling me of a magical place: the fairytale landscape you enter in dreams . . . This garden, this country [he says of the magical place], these are your origin. This