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Susan’s Bookshelf: Recommended Reading

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Susan says: “A must-read! The beauty of The Kite Runner is that the story is so engrossing that you don’t even realize how much history you’re learning. The Kite Runner takes the reader on a journey through Afghanistan set over the past 30 years but you will feel for the characters in a way that provides great entertainment.”

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Susan says: “Same idea as The Kite Runner but the story is about women. Although the book is fiction, Hosseini uses historical events and makes it so realistic that the reader walks away from the book feeling more knowledgeable about the plight of women in Afghanistan.”

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
From “In Afghanistan, just after the fall of the Taliban, a bookseller named Sultan Khan allowed a western journalist to move into his home and experience firsthand his family's life in the newly liberated capital city of Kabul. From that act of openness emerges this remarkable book, already an international bestseller—the most intimate look yet at ordinary life for those who have weathered Afghanistan's extraordinary upheavals. One husband, two wives, five children, and many other relatives sharing four small rooms opened up their lives, unforgettably.”

Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
Susan says:“I LOVE this book. It is appropriate for kids 9 and older but honestly, I think adults should read it too. Because it is written for children, you can read it in a day but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t great information to be learned. The story is of a young girl living in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban. When her father is sent off to jail, she dresses up as a boy so that she can leave her house to provide for her family. The Breadwinner is the first of a trilogy. The other titles in the series are Parvana’s Journey and Mud City.”

Come Back to Afghanistan: A California Teenager’s Story by Said Hyder Akbar and Susan Burton
Susan says: “This book is a true story about a young Afghan-American teenager who goes back to Afghanistan after 9/11. The beauty of this book is that Akbar is able to tell his story from both an American and an Afghan perspective—a very good read!”

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
Susan says: “Many people have already read this bestseller, but if you haven’t, I highly recommend it. I also have the children’s version (my kids read it for school), which I found just as inspiring and a bit easier to get through.”

A Bed of Red Flowers: In Search of My Afghanistan by Nelofer Pazira
Susan says: “This memoir begins in Afghanistan in the 1970s. It follows Pazira’s upper-middleclass family as they struggle to survive. It tells of their life during the Soviet invasion, the Taliban rule, and their eventual escape to Pakistan and then to Canada.”

The Places in Between by Rory Stewart
From Rory Stewart’s website: “In January 2002 Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan—surviving by his wits, his knowledge of Persian dialects and Muslim customs, and the kindness of strangers. By day he passed through mountains covered in nine feet of snow, hamlets burned and emptied by the Taliban, and communities thriving amid the remains of medieval civilizations. By night he slept on villagers' floors, shared their meals, and listened to their stories of the recent and ancient past. Along the way Stewart met heroes and rogues, tribal elders and teenage soldiers, Taliban commanders and foreign-aid workers. He was also adopted by an unexpected companion—a retired fighting mastiff he named Babur in honor of Afghanistan's first Mughal emperor, in whose footsteps the pair was following. Through these encounters—by turns touching, confounding, surprising, and funny—Stewart makes tangible the forces of tradition, ideology, and allegiance that shape life in the map's countless places in between.”

Meena: Heroine of Afghanistan by Melody Ermachild Chavis
Susan says: “Meena founded RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan). She gave her life for her quest for equality and human rights for the women (and men) of her country. Everyone should read this book to understand the issues facing women in Afghanistan. It will also leave you feeling that we cannot give up the fight.”

The Sewing Circles of Herat by Christina Lamb
Susan says: “This was the first book recommended to me when I became interested in learning more about Afghanistan. The author is a British journalist who lived in Pakistan and Afghanistan during the last two years of the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. She then returned after 9/11.” From an reviewer: “This book gives the reader a fascinating glimpse of life in the country that has been the subject of news stories for decades. You get to tag along as the writer recounts her visits, branching off into handy tidbits of history or local politics to explain why the people act the way they do. Reading it is a rollercoaster ride as it calls up almost every emotion: sadness, despair, hope, compassion, even raising the occasional smile. I found the book enlightening, especially about the history and the differences between all the local tribes. It gave me a view of how that all fit together to form the present situation in Afghanistan.”

Ghost Wars by Steve Coll
From the New York Times: "The finest historical narrative so far on the origins of Al Qaeda in the post-Soviet rubble of Afghanistan.”

Love and War in Afghanistan by Alex Klaits and Gulchin Gulmamadova-Klaits
Susan says: “I really enjoyed this book. It’s a collection of stories of people in Northeastern Afghanistan. Some stories were more powerful than others but reading them all together definitely leaves the reader with a better understanding of life in Afghanistan. All in all a very easy read.”

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Susan says: “Although this book does not focus specifically on Afghanistan, it leaves the reader with a very good understanding of problems faced by women worldwide. Although there is a lot of information crammed into the book, I found it very easy to read. The research and statistics are all there but so are the heart-wrenching stories of women from around the world. I truly believe that Half the Sky should be required reading for EVERYONE.”

A Mighty Heart by Mariane Pearl
Susan says: “This book has been sitting on my shelf for years but I have not had the heart to read it (yet).”

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
Susan says: “I read this book many years ago but it seems as though everyone is talking about it now since the earthquake in Haiti. The book is about Paul Farmer, who founded Partners in Health in Haiti. Farmer is a Harvard educated doctor who chooses an unusual path—working tirelessly for the impoverished people of Haiti—bringing them not just healthcare but dignity as well.”

The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs
Susan says: “I look forward to reading Sachs's book, which was highly recommended.”

How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein
Susan says: “I was given this book when I spoke at Olin College (they were reading for their class). Each chapter focuses on different people and organizations making a difference around the world. I found the book inspiring—the bottom line being that ordinary people can do exceptional things. I should also note that my cousin, Kinney Zalesne, is mentioned in the book for the work she did with College Summit.”

14 Cows For America by Carmen Agra Deedy with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah
Susan says: “It's a kids book but really quite powerful. It brought tears to my eyes."