Nothing Good Happens in Wazirabad on a Wednesday by Jamaluddin Aram

The first coherent thought that emerged from the excited jumble in my head as read the opening section of the book was “Tulips.” Not because tulips are (or at least were) the national flower of Afghanistan, but because the structure and the language that reminded me of these flowers, each chapter or section a gorgeously scented petal arranged loosely around a delicate receptacle. The words and stories fold into each other, opening up into a luxuriant burst of colour and fragrance. It is partly the rich oral texture of the words that brought me to that thought, and partly the loose assemblage of related stories that together form something quite extraordinary.

“In Aram’s Wazirabad, ordinary people go about their ordinary lives, finding a way to build community among the remnants of war.”

The Wazirabad of the title refers to an impoverished area of Kabul not far from the erstwhile US Embassy and right beside the Kabul International Airport. In other words, ground zero for the struggle over the soul of Kabul. None of this history is noted in Jamaluddin Aram’s story, but both the needless violence of the war beyond Wazirabad and the struggle for the soul of Kabul both shape the story that blossoms under Aram’s pen. In Aram’s Wazirabad, ordinary people go about their ordinary lives, finding a way to build community among the remnants of war. And yet one cannot get away from the war: it is there, it is a presence throughout, and it shapes this community.

There are books you read in a single sitting because you simply cannot bear to be apart from the characters. Then there are books where you read small sections at a time, then walk away, sated by the richness of the storytelling, and in need to time to reflect: Nothing Good Happens in Wazirabad on a Wednesday is a bit of both. I fell in love with the characters but had to step away several times to let the implication of the words settle before I continued.

Although we are told the book is set in Afghanistan in the 1990s, the war seldom intrudes visibly on the lives of the community, and the story feels timeless. Yet it is always a presence, a backdrop that informs everything, from petty feuds to the items people buy to how loved one are buried and the sense of community that develops in the midst of war. To escape the harshness of their lives, the people of Wazirabad gossip and tell stories.

As I read the story, I could not help but think of the so-called “dorpsroman” (town novel, or community novel), a genre that will be familiar to readers of South American fiction, or the community stories of a writer like Michael Crummey. It is a genre in which the story focuses on a particular, generally rural, community. Where Aram’s novel differs from the standard pattern of these novels is in the way he finds that sense of isolation in the heart of Kabul; unlike in the dorpsroman genre, Nothing Good Happens in Wazirabad on a Wednesday does not focus on the life of a single central figure but relies on a parade of outsiders who despite their troubles and squabbles and differences, forge a caring community. 

As the collage of stories and small-scale conflicts comes into focus, we become privy to the secrets, the violence, and the greed among the closely tied denizens of Wazirabad. Jamal Aram does for Afghani literature what writers like Etienne van Heerden have done for South African literature in his magisterial The Long Silence of Mario Salviati, or what Gabriel Garcia Marquez did for Latin America in One Hundred Years of Solitude by moving the story out of a strictly realist mode into something profound.

Through the people of Wazirabad, Aram transforms his country’s tainted past, filled as it is with zealotry and the spectres of colonialism, avarice, and war fatigue, into a parable where redemption and forgiveness can begin with small acts.

Jamaluddin Aram is a documentary filmmaker, producer, and writer from Kabul, Afghanistan. His works have appeared in Numero CinqThe Write Launch, and Cagibi literary magazine among others. Jamaluddin’s short story “This Hard Easy Life” was a finalist for RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers in 2020. He lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Simon & Schuster (June 6 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1668009854
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1668009857

Peter Midgley is a bilingual writer and editor from Edmonton. Over the course of thirty years, he has worked as a freelance editor, festival director, university lecturer, managing editor, acquisitions editor, clerk of court, bartender, actor, janitor, and door-to-door salesman. This experience has given him enough material for more than a dozen books. His latest book, let us not think of them as barbarians (NeWest Press), was shortlisted for the Stephan G. Stephansson Award in 2019.