….. this year it is probably because I have picked this one up again, and read it slowly, with a notebook and a pile of coloured stickies on the table. It is one of those rare joys. Not only is the weight in the hand just right; the dustwrapper quite unique, so much so that you may feel like removing it for fear of leaving a fingerprint or some other evidence of use. But I left it in place, just for the enjoyment of holding, and of reading.
Anna Badkhen takes us to Afghanistan, to an isolated village, Oqa, in the north between the Hindu Kush and the border with Uzbekistan. It is a tiny and remote place, unknown to the officials in Mazar-e-Sharif and to Google Maps. Among the goats and the camels and the detritus of war two hundred and forty souls live as their ancestors have done.
The long trudge to market yields yarn, from the remaining proceeds of last year’s carpet; and what’s left might allow some onions to be taken on the long walk home, packed into the donkey’s panniers with the yarn.
The loom is set and the warp and weft begins. Eventually Thawra may be rewarded with the equivalent of a dollar a day for her months in the loom room, once the carpet is finished and begins its journey. In time the final buyer may pay up to $20,000, but it is a meagre reward that goes back to Oqa, and meagre rations through the seasons, through the fast , through the winter months of snow and rain and isolation.
Badkhen grew up in Soviet Leningrad, and has spent her working life in the world’s badlands. Her time with the villagers of Oqa was supported by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, and we should all be grateful for that.
For The World is a Carpet is a rare work, and the pleasure you may get in reading it, a warm and mushy glow does not do it justice, is as welcome as it is surprising. Afghanistan is not a part of the world we may currently associate with deep humanity, may not even have done for centuries. But it is there and it is evident and Badkhen masters the art of enlightening us. Her words leap from the page. They are all in the right order, carefully selected, and they paint pictures.
I’m not going to tell you the story, just suggest, strongly, that you get your hands on a copy of this book, and lose yourself in another world. I’m off to her website now, to see what else she has written.