Under a Kabul Sky: Short Fiction by Afghan Women

The Western perception of Afghanistan is of a country perpetually rocked by armed conflict, explosive violence, political strife and grotesque social injustice. Afghan women have suffered greatly at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists and in 2021 saw many of their civil rights and hard-won freedoms, achieved during 20 years of democratic rule, vanish overnight when the Taliban overran the country and installed itself as the governing body. This constant state of chaos and turmoil is generational, and the country’s literature is beginning to reflect tensions and fears that cast a dark shadow over daily life in a country that has been ripped to pieces time and time again.

Under a Kabul Sky, originally published in 2019 as Sous le ciel de Kaboul by French publisher Le Soupirail, and now rendered into English by Canadian translator and editor Elaine Kennedy, includes 12 stories by female writers from Afghanistan and neighbouring countries that chronicle lives of deprivation, torment and agonizing uncertainty. The authors, born between 1958 and 1984, are highly educated and most have published extensively. It will come as no surprise that the dominant motif here is war, or that many of these fraught narratives possess nightmarish qualities that make them hard to summarize.

In “Two Shots,” by Wasima Badghisi, a reluctant soldier, ordered by a superior to fire his gun into the depthless black of night, even though he can’t see any target, discovers later that his action has had unexpected and bitter consequences. “Number Thirteen,” by Batool Haidari, is narrated by the corpse of an Afghan woman who has sought refuge in another country but fears deportation. Having been killed in an explosion, she is lying on a tray in a morgue, waiting for her husband to arrive and identify her. In “Night of the Wolf,” by Alia Ataee, Khorshid has ventured out to a clandestine meeting place in the desert near the Afghanistan-Iran border where her brother sells stolen gasoline to refugee smugglers. She’s searching for a cell phone that he’s hidden there, but has become trapped when her foot slips between the slats of a metal grate. As night falls and she grows delirious, weakened by lack of food and water, she hears the howling getting closer and recalls her encounters with men, who, in her fevered recollections, morph into wolfish predators. And in the volume’s longest and final story, “The Other Side of the Window,” by Homayra Rafat, another reluctant soldier, Hamid, has been sent to the front. His family is worried because in the months since there’s been no word from him and no news about him. Then his fiancé, Âycha, and her sister come across Hamid’s blood-stained diary, which describes his fears, desires and frank observations over what we presume are his last days alive.

The trauma depicted in these pages is relentless and often shocking. The characters we meet live tentatively, moment by moment, awaiting the next calamity, the next grievous loss. Nowhere is safe. Wherever they reside—city, town or village—there is always some lethal danger or destructive force waiting, just beyond the next hill or around the next corner, to obliterate them and those they love.

For Western readers, this is an alien world, one that seems conjured by a febrile imagination. But the tragedy is that this is the reality for millions of innocent people caught in the crossfire. For many, it comes down to a choice between a life of crushing subjugation or the humiliation and helplessness that comes with refugee status, and the years-long ordeal of waiting for some other country to take you in. Under a Kabul Sky: Short Fiction by Afghan Women provides a vivid and terrifying glimpse into this reality, one that readers are not likely to forget anytime soon.

A native of Toronto now living in Victoria, Elaine Kennedy studied English literature, French language and civilization, as well as translation in North America and Europe. She has worked as a translator and editor in numerous fields. Today, she focuses on literary translation.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Inanna Poetry & Fiction Series (Jan. 21 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 128 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771339152
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771339155

 -- Website

Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in many literary publications, in print and online. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Journey Prize, the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, and others. His latest novel, The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard, was the winner of the 2022 Guernica Prize and was published by Guernica Editions in 2023. He lives in Halifax.