Summary and book reviews of The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam

The Wasted Vigil

By Nadeem Aslam

The Wasted Vigil
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2008,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2009,
    336 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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About this Book

Book Summary

The author of Maps for Lost Lovers gives us a new novel—at once lyrical and blistering—about war in our time, told through the lives of five people who come together in post-9/11 Afghanistan.

Marcus, an English doctor whose progressive, outspoken Afghani wife was murdered by the Taliban, opens his home—itself an eerily beautiful monument to his losses—to the others: Lara, from St. Petersburg, looking for evidence of her soldier brother who disappeared decades before during the Soviet invasion; David, an American, a former spy who has seen his ideals turned inside out during his twenty-five years in Afghanistan; Casa, a young Afghani whose hatred of the West plunges him into the depths of zealotry; and James, the Special Forces soldier in whom David sees a dangerous revival of the unquestioning notions of right and wrong that he himself once held.

In mesmerizing prose, Nadeem Aslam reveals the complex ties—of love and desperation, pain and salvation, madness and clarity—that bind the characters. And through their stories he creates a timely and achingly intimate portrait of the “continuation of wars” that shapes our world.

In its radiant language, its depth of feeling, and its unflinching drama, The Wasted Vigil is a luminous work of fiction.

The Great Buddha

Her mind is a haunted house.

The woman named Lara looks up at an imagined noise. Folding away the letter she has been rereading, she moves towards the window with its high view of the garden. Out there the dawn sky is filling up with light though a few of last night’s stars are still visible.

She turns after a while and crosses over to the circular mirror leaning against the far wall. Bringing it to the centre of the room she places it face up on the floor, gently, soundlessly, a kindness towards her host who is asleep in an adjoining room. In the mirror she ignores her own image, examining the reflection of the ceiling instead, lit by the pale early light.

The mirror is large—if it was water she could dive and disappear into it without touching the sides. On the wide ceiling are hundreds of books, each held in place by an iron nail hammered through it. A spike driven through the pages of history, a spike through the pages of love, a spike through...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enliven your group's discussion of Nadeem Aslam's novel, The Wasted Vigil.

Reader's Guide
  1. Nadeem Aslam has been widely praised for his richly poetic prose style. What passages in the book seem especially beautifully written? What makes these passages so powerful?
  2. Early in the novel, readers learn that Marcus has lost his hand. Why does Aslam withhold the story of precisely how he lost that hand until much later in the book?
  3. When David confronts James about torturing Casa, telling him that it's illegal, James replies: “Illegal? This is war, David. You've been looking into the wrong law books. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Aslam explores a variety of themes and historical moments as he strives to illustrate 'the continuation of wars' and the connections between these unlikely friends. The notion that fighting, whether internal or external, between friends or amongst nations, can ever be resolved is adroitly examined as Aslam walks with these characters through their pain and searching. His beautiful language, precise imagery, and nuanced characterization add to the rich experience of reading this book. As with Aslam's other work, the plot is subtle and the action spurred largely by character development, but this is a beautiful, powerful book, one that should make us think about the ways we perceive other people.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (961 words).

Media Reviews
Library Journal

Starred Review. There’s no whitewash or caricature here, just authentic writing that delivers the world—and a range of extraordinary characters. Highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An intense, empathetic, magisterial interpretation of clashing beliefs and entwined fates, in a harsh and ruined, yet lovely place.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Lyrical but not overwritten, the novel creates an unflinchingly clear picture of a country whose history of strife is still being written.

Daily Telegraph - Sameer Rahim

The symbolism and the sentimentality might be forgivable if the writing were good. But the prose is painfully repetitious: "A spike driven through the pages of history, a spike through the pages of love, a spike through the sacred" .... Sadly, there is too much rigorous condemnation here and too little of the delicacy found in his early work.

Sunday Times - Peter Parker

It might be argued that writing beautifully about horrifying current events is in some way questionable, but The Wasted Vigil reminds us that fiction can do things that mere reportage can't. ..... He has immersed himself in a country and a culture and drawn upon art, mythology and history to provide an involving and morally complex tale of the ruthless betrayals and the queasy compromises that are made by nations and individuals alike.

The Times - Vanora Bennett

This sounds schematic - stereotypes against an exotic, threatening background. But the story that binds these people together is spellbinding - a beautifully drawn web of the fragile connections of trust, misunderstanding, memory, sacrifice, and, against the odds, love, that people who have lost everything else in the deadly stupidity of war must live and die by.

Marie Clair (UK) - Eithne Farry

Marrying breathtakingly beautiful imagery with the ugly brutality of violence, Aslam navigates the troubled history of Afghanistan over the past two decades.

Reader Reviews
Maggie

Heart-breaking Insight into Afghanistan
This is probably one of the most profound books I have ever read. It breathes life into the endless news coverage of Afghanistan over the past decade. The horror and degradation suffered on all sides, the seeming hopelessness of finding a way back....   Read More

Kim

Five stars plus!
The Wasted Vigil is without doubt one of the best-written books I’ve read this year. The writing is positively stunning, the imagery so rich the reader has to pause to simply enjoy the picture the author has painted. This book is one to be savored....   Read More

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Afghanistan 1979 - 1994

At the beginning of the novel, Lara, a character reminiscent, in her painful past and gracefulness, of Lara in Dr. Zhivago, arrives on Marcus's doorstep to uncover the fate of her brother Benedikt, who came to Afghanistan with the 1979 Soviet invasion...

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan at the request of the largely unpopular, pro-Soviet Afghan government, who sought military assistance against the Mujahideen* (various Afghan opposition groups who eventually formed one aligned political bloc). The Mujahideen were partially funded by the CIA during the Carter and Reagan administrations, and by a number of other countries. In 1979, the Soviet Union ...

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