The Gifts of The State: New Afghan Writing edited by Adam Klein is a collection of short stories from the writing workshop Klein ran in Kabul. Klein is the author of Tiny Ladies and the short story collection The Medicine Burns. He earned his MA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and his MFA from The New School. Klein was a Peace Corps volunteer in Bangladesh, Fulbright lecturer in India, and is currently an assistant professor of English at the American University of Afghanistan.
This collection of short stories represents the new, younger Afghan population. Those who remember the war with the Soviets, or at least stories of the war, the rise of the Taliban, and the American invasion. These stories bring together many aspects of Afghan life and seem to reflect on the one thing that has been missing from these people’s lives: Peace. There has been some form of turmoil in the country since the 1970s. Like most other people, Afghans just wish to be left alone.
The stories show how wearing jeans can produce a huge public argument. Villagers, in one story, believe that Soviet’s had attacked America on 9/11 because America and the Soviet Union have always been fighting each other. What possible effect would 9/11 have on Afghanistan asks one child. “The Taste of Cake” shows the brutality and depravity of those who hold power. “Hard Boiled” is an interesting story of a man who dresses as a member of the Taliban, but runs an illegal comic book store. Since there are no movies or music in Taliban run Afghanistan, comics provide some sort of an escape. The writer pictures himself a bit of a Mike Hammer fan and similarly falls for a woman needing assistance.
The writing is very good in all the stories and the writers’ command of English is also impressive. It is not so much the writing that makes this book great, but the first hand insight into a country that is still a mystery to most Americans. I would venture to say that most Americans only know Afghanistan for the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden, and mountain bunkers. The Gifts of the State gives a personal look into the country and the people. It is this intimate look at the culture that makes this a great book. The main limiting factor is that the students are attending an American school where English a requirement to attend. I again would make a guess that most of these students come from the privileged class of Afghanistan. With that being said, I will give the benefit of the doubt to the writer’s perspective and their vision; it is the best look into the country that we have.