In The Wasted Vigil, Nadeem Aslam, the award-winning author of Maps for Lost Lovers, brilliantly knits together five seemingly unconnected lives to create a luminous story set in contemporary Afghanistan.There’s Marcus, an English expat who was married to an outspoken Afghani doctor; David, a former American spy; Lara, from St. Petersburg, looking for traces of her brother, a Russian soldier who disappeared years before; Casa, a young Afghani whose hatred of the Americans has plunged him into the blinding depths of zealotry; and James, an American Special Forces soldier. Aslamreveals the intertwining paths that these characters have traveled, constructing a timely and intimate portrait of the complex ties that bind us and the wars that continue to tear us apart.
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Nadeem Aslam is the author of two previous novels, both of which were long-listed for the Man Booker Prize: Maps for Lost Lovers , winner of the Kiriyama Prize and a New York Times Notable Book, and Season of the Rainbirds. He is also the recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship. Born in Pakistan, he now lives in England.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Great BuddhaHer mind is a haunted house.The woman named Lara looks up at an imagined noise. Folding away the letter she has been rereading, she moves towards the window with its high view of the garden. Out there the dawn sky is filling up with light though a few of last night’s stars are still visible.She turns after a while and crosses over to the circular mirror leaning against the far wall. Bringing it to the centre of the room she places it face up on the floor, gently, soundlessly, a kindness towards her host who is asleep in an adjoining room. In the mirror she ignores her own image, examining the reflection of the ceiling instead, lit by the pale early light.The mirror is large—if it was water she could dive and disappear into it without touching the sides. On the wide ceiling are hundreds of books, each held in place by an iron nail hammered through it. A spike driven through the pages of history, a spike through the pages of love, a spike through the sacred. Kneeling on the dusty floor at the mirror’s edge she tries to read the titles. The words are reversed but that is easier than looking up for entire minutes would be.There is no sound except her own slow breathing and, from outside, the breeze trailing its rippling robes through the overgrown garden.She slides the mirror along the floor as though visiting another section of a library.The books are all up there, the large ones as well as those that are no thicker than the walls of the human heart. Occasionally one of them falls by itself in an interior because its hold has weakened, or it may be brought down when desired with the judicious tapping of a bamboo pole.A native of the faraway St. Petersburg, what a long journey she has made to be here, this land that Alexander the Great had passed through on his unicorn, an area of fabled orchards and thick mulberry forests, of pomegranates that appear in the border decorations of Persian manuscripts written one thousand years ago.Her host’s name is Marcus Caldwell, an Englishman who has spent most of his life here in Afghanistan, having married an Afghan woman. He is seventy years old and his white beard and deliberate movements recall a prophet, a prophet in wreckage. She hasn’t been here for many days so there is hesitancy in her still regarding Marcus’s missing left hand. The skin cup he could make with the palms of his hands is broken in half. She had asked late one evening, delicately, but he seemed unwilling to be drawn on the subject. In any case no explanations are needed in this country. It would be no surprise if the trees and vines of Afghanistan suspended their growth one day, fearful that if their roots were to lengthen they might come into contact with a landmine buried near by.She lifts her hand to her face and inhales the scent of sandalwood deposited onto the fingers by the mirror’s frame. The wood of a living sandal tree has no fragrance, Marcus said the other day, the perfume materialising only after the cutting down.Like the soul vacating the body after death, she thinks.•Marcus is aware of her presence regardless of where she is in the house. She fell ill almost immediately upon arrival four days ago, succumbing to the various exhaustions of her journey towards him, and he has cared for her since then, having been utterly alone before that for many months. From the descriptions she had been given of him, she said out of her fever the first afternoon, she had expected an ascetic dressed in bark and leaf and accompanied by a deer of the wilderness.She said that a quarter of a century ago her brother had entered Afghanistan as a soldier with the Soviet Army, and that he was one of the ones who never returned home. She has visited Afghanistan twice before in the intervening decades but there has neither been proof of life nor of death, until perhaps now. She is here this time because she has learnt that Marcus’s daughter might have known the young Soviet man.He told her his daughter, Zameen, was no longer alive.“Did she ever mention anything?” she asked.“She was taken from this house in 1980, when she was seventeen years old. I never saw her again.”“Did anyone else?”“She died in 1986, I believe. She had become a mother by then—a little boy who disappeared around the time she died. She and an American man were in love, and I know all this from him.”This was on the first day. She then drifted into a long sleep.From the various plants in the garden he derived an ointment for the deeply bruised base of her neck, the skin there almost black above the right shoulder, as though some of the world’s darkness had attempted to enter her there. He wished pomegranates were in season as their liquid is a great antiseptic. When the bus broke down during the journey, she said, all passengers had disembarked and she had found herself falling asleep on a verge. There then came three blows to her body with a tyre iron in quick succession, the disbelief and pain making her cry out. She was lying down with her feet pointed towards the west, towards the adored city of Mecca a thousand miles away, a disrespect she was unaware of, and one of the passengers had taken it upon himself to correct and punish her.Her real mistake was to have chosen to travel swaddled up like the women from this country, thinking it would be safer. Perhaps if her face had been somewhat exposed, the colour of her hair visible, she would have been forgiven as a foreigner. Everyone, on the other hand, had the right to make an example of an unwise Afghan woman, even a boy young enough to be her son.Marcus opens a book. The early morning light is entering at a low angle from the window. The fibres of the page throw their elongated shadows across the words, so much so that they make the text difficult to read. He tilts the page to make it catch the light evenly, the texture of the paper disappearing.Within the pages he finds a small pressed leaf, perfect but for a flake missing at the centre as though chewed off by a silkworm. The hole runs all the way through the pages also, where he had pulled out the iron nail to gain access to the words.He has given her only the purest water when she has been thirsty. This country has always been a hub of things moving from one point of the compass to another, religion and myth, works of art, caravans of bundled Chinese silk flowing past camels loaded with glass from ancient Rome or pearls from the Gulf. The ogre whose activities created one of Afghanistan’s deserts was slain by Aristotle. And now Comanche helicopters bring sizeable crates of bottled water for America’s Special Forces teams that are operating in the region, the hunt for terrorists continuing out there. Caches of this water are unloaded at various agreed locations in the hills and deserts, but two winters ago a consignment must have broken its netting—it fell from the sky and came apart in an explosion close to Marcus’s house, a blast at whose core lay water not fire, the noise bringing him to the window to find the side of the house dripping wet and hundreds of the gleaming transparent bottles floating on the lake in front of the house. A moment later another roped bundle landed on the lake and sank out of sight. Perhaps it broke up and released the bottles, or did it catch on something down there and is still being held? Water buried inside water. He skimmed many of the bottles from the surface before they could disperse and found others over the coming days and weeks, split or whole, scattered in the long grasses of his neglected orchard.He lowers his pale blue eyes to the book.It is a poet’s diwan, the most noble of matters, dealt with in the most noble of words. As always the first two pages of verse are enclosed within illuminated borders, an intricate embroidery in ink. Last night she had clipped his fingernails, which he normally just files off on any available abrasive surface. When she leaves she should take a volume from the impaled library. Perhaps everyone who comes here should be given one so that no matter where they are in the world they can recognise each other. Kin. A fellowship of wounds. They are intensely solitary here. The house stands on the edge of a small lake; and though damaged in the wars, it still conveys the impression of being finely carved, the impression of being weightless. At the back is the half-circle formed by the overgrown garden and orchard. Shifting zones of birdsong, of scent. A path lined with Persian lilac trees curves away out of sight, the branches still hung with last year’s berries, avoided by birds as they are toxic.The ground begins to rise back there gradually until it reaches the sky. The broad chalk line of permanent snow up there, thirteen thousand feet high, is the mighty range of mountains containing the cave labyrinths of Tora Bora.At the front of the house, a mile along the edge of the lake, is the village that takes its name from the lake. Usha. Teardrop. Thirty miles farther is the city of Jalalabad. Because Lara is Russian, Marcus’s immediate fear regarding her illness was that she had been fed a poison during the hours she had spent waiting for him in Usha, her country having precipitated much of present-day Afghanistan’s destruction by invading in 1979.•In the darkness soon after four a.m. one night, Lara had got out of bed. Accompanied by candlelight she went into the various rooms of the house, moving under that sheath of books, needing movement after the countless hours of being still. She avoided the room where Marcus was but entered others, looking, enclosed within the sphere of yellow light from the flame in her hand. Somewhere very far away a muezzin had begun the call to the prayers of dawn, defined by Islam as the moment when a black thread can just be distinguished from a white one without artificial light.When enough light began to enter the house, she placed mirrors on the floor to look at the books overhead, though not all of them had been nailed with the titles facing out, and any number of them were in languages she did not possess.Some years ago, at a point when the Taliban could have raided the house any day, Marcus’s wife had nailed the books overhead in these rooms and corridors. Original thought was heresy to the Taliban and they would have burned the books. And this was the only way that suggested itself to the woman, she whose mental deterioration was complete by then, to save them, to put them out of harm’s reach.Lara imagined stretching a fishing net at waist level, imagined going to the room directly above and banging her feet until all the books were dislodged and caught without further harm in the net. Marcus said the deep rumble of the B52s had shaken loose every book from one side of a corridor when Tora Bora began to be bombed day and night up there in 2001. The intermittent rain in the whole house had intensified during those weeks in fact.The Englishman said he had bought the house more than forty years ago, just before he married his wife, Qatrina, who like him was a doctor. “I used to say she brought me Afghanistan in her dowry,” he said. The house was built by an old master calligrapher and painter in the last years of the nineteenth century. He belonged to what was almost the final generation of Muslim artists to be trained in the style of the incomparable Bihzad. When the six-roomed building was complete, the master—who had painted images on the walls of each room—brought to it the woman he wished to make his companion for life. Beginning on the ground floor, each of the first five rooms was dedicated to one of the five senses, and as the courtship slowly progressed over the following weeks, the couple went from one to the next:The first was dedicated to the sense of sight, and on the walls, among other things, Subha in a dancerly gesture presented her eye to a rogue in the forest. Allah created through the spoken word, read the inscription above the door that led to the interior about hearing. Here the walls showed singers and musical gatherings, a lute with a songbird sitting on its neck—teaching perhaps, perhaps learning.From there they moved to the faculty of smell, where angels bent down towards the feet of humans, to ascertain from the odour whether these feet had ever walked towards a mosque. Others leaned towards bellies, to check for fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.In the room about the sense of touch, there was a likeness of Muhammad with his hand plunged in a jar. He was someone who would not shake hands with women, so in order to make a pact he would put his hand in a vessel containing water and withdraw it, and then the woman would put her hand into the water.Then it was on to taste, and from that room they ascended to the highest place in the house: it contained and combined all that had gone before—an interior dedicated to love, the ultimate human wonder, and that was where she said yes.The imagery was there on the walls still but, out of the fear of the Ta- liban, all depictions of the living things had been smeared with mud by Marcus. Even an ant on a pebble had been daubed. It was as though all life had been returned to dust. Consolation of a kind could be had from the fact that most of the rest of the images had survived—the inanimate things, the trees and the skies, the streams. And since the demise of the Ta- liban, Marcus had begun slowly to remove the swirled covering of mud. The highest room stands completely revealed now.Marcus took Lara to one corner and pointed to the foliage painted there. When she looked closely she saw that a chameleon was sitting perfectly camouflaged on a leaf. She leaned closer to that lovely fiction and touched it. “The Taliban would even burn a treasured family letter because the stamp showed a butterfly,” said Marcus. “But I missed this, and so did they.”Roaming the house at night, her shadow trembling in accordance with the candle flame, Lara had entered the topmost room. The walls were originally a delicate faded gold, painted with scenes of lovers either in an embrace or travelling towards each other through forest and meadow. They were badly damaged by bullets. When the Taliban came to the house they had proceeded to annihilate anything they considered un-Islamic within it. What they had heard about this room had enraged them the most. This they wanted to blow up, even though the lovers had been made to disappear behind a veil of earth by Marcus.Lara’s eyes moved across the shattered skin of the walls, the candle picking up hints of gold here and there. This country was one of the greatest tragedies of the age. Torn to pieces by the many hands of war, by the various hatreds and failings of the world. Two million deaths over the past quarter-century. Several of the lovers on the walls were on their own because of the obliterating impact of the bullets—nothing but a gash or a terrible ripping away where the corresponding man or woman used to be. A shredded limb, a lost eye.A sound originating in one of the other rooms startled her where she stood, her heart speeding up at the possibilities.It was not a thief, she reassured herself, nor a Taliban fighter looking for somewhere to hide. Nor an Arab, Pakistani, Uzbek, Chechen, Indonesian terrorist—seed sprouted from the blood-soaked soil of Muslim countries. On the run since the autumn of 2001, al-Qaeda appeared to be regrouping, to kidnap foreigners, organise suicide bombings, and behead those it deemed traitors, those it suspected of informing the Americans.“What fool drew this?” the Tsar had demanded to know of a fortress that a student at the Academy of Military Engineering in St. Petersburg had drawn inadvertently without doors. The young man was Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Lara wished this house was similarly devoid of entrances as she slowly moved along the corridor, the drops of molten wax sliding down the side of the red candle in her hand.No one came near the house, Marcus had told her, beca...
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Book Description Vintage, 2009. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # mon0000132624
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Book Description Vintage, 2009. Book Condition: New. Brand New, Unread Copy in Perfect Condition. A+ Customer Service! Summary: "Harrowing yet beautiful.With astonishing lyricismand compassion Aslamcreates unforgettable characters." The Boston Globe "Extraordinary. Aslam's determination to gaze resolutely at the darkest side of our many cold and hot wars is what givesThe Wasted Vigil its depth and power." PankajMishra,The New York Review of Books "The power of Aslam's novel lives in the explosive adjacency of brutality and love, the poison of fanaticism diluted by the perfume of Persian lilacs." O, OprahMagazine "A searing, multifaceted novel . . . Its polyglot characters inhabit a seething cauldron of human drama . . . You might think that there is a particular specter haunting Afghanistan in these early years of the 21st centurythe Talibanbut in Aslam's penetrating view, there are multiple forces at work there." San Francisco Chronicle "Unafraid of political complexity, Aslam is also unflinching in his examination of depravity. Yet his writing also encompasses tenderness. His characters are intricately wounded and geographically diverse . . . This novel seeks to reveal the psyche not just of one rural village or one immigrant community but of Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States and Afghanistan. The revelations throughout are artful." New York Times Book Review "The Wasted Vigilis remarkable for being at once topical and timelessa complex and layered vision of contemporary Afghanistan . . . Like Michael Ondaatje before him, Aslam has a way of breathing life into larger historical and political backdrops with sensual details and lush interior lives.The Wasted Vigilshimmers with moments of poetic beauty and seems destined, likeThe English Patientto become a classic of modern, globalized literature." Time Out New York "Nadeem Aslam offers readers surprising gems in his new book . . . The fabric of these characters' lives are interwoven with rich, carefully researched detail about Afghanistan and the intricacies of life in a country still grappling with the lasting influences of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It's a bold task to attempt to point out the similarities between a Muslim fundamentalist's zeal and an American CIA agent's righteous view of his job, yet, amid a sweeping story about love, Aslam does exactly this with considerable poise . . . A book that is both lyrical and sharp." Christian Science Monitor "Arguably the best novel available on the current situation in the Middle East. The jihadists, the warlords, the crusading Americansall are given voice in calm, relentless, shatteringly beautiful prose that reveals the essential wrongness of the current conflict from every angle. There's no whitewash or caricature here, just authentic writing that delivers the worldand a range of extraordinary characters. Highly recommended." Library Journal(starred) "An intense, empathetic, magisterial interpretation of clashing beliefs and entwined fates, in a harsh and ruined, yet lovely place . . . Complexity, beauty, violence and tragedy mark the pages of Aslam's affecting story . . . [The novel has] insight and somber impact." Kirkus Reviews(starred) "Kiriyama-winner Aslam takes an ambitious and moving look at the human cost of Afghanistan's war-torn reality . . . An unflinchingly clear picture of a country whose history of strife is still being written." Publishers Weekly(starred) Reviews fro. Bookseller Inventory # ABE_book_new_0307388743
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Book Description Random House USA Inc, United States, 2009. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 198 x 130 mm. Language: English Brand New Book. In The Wasted Vigil, Nadeem Aslam, the award-winning author of Maps for Lost Lovers, brilliantly knits together five seemingly unconnected lives to create a luminous story set in contemporary Afghanistan.There s Marcus, an English expat who was married to an outspoken Afghani doctor; David, a former American spy; Lara, from St. Petersburg, looking for traces of her brother, a Russian soldier who disappeared years before; Casa, a young Afghani whose hatred of the Americans has plunged him into the blinding depths of zealotry; and James, an American Special Forces soldier. Aslamreveals the intertwining paths that these characters have traveled, constructing a timely and intimate portrait of the complex ties that bind us and the wars that continue to tear us apart. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780307388742
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Book Description Vintage, 2009. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # 0307388743