Excerpt from A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Door in the Earth

by Amy Waldman

A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldman X
A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldman
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2019, 400 pages

    Oct 2020, 400 pages


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Before Issa could answer, they were in the village bazaar, the headlights' beams poking at empty stalls. He yanked the gearshift into  park, gave thanks to Allah, high-fived  Fawad, and said they would walk from there. But first he disappeared into the darkness and left her and Fawad to listen to the sound of him urinating.

Upon his return, he handed Parveen a flashlight and her small suitcase, gave a heavy one to her cousin, took the other himself, then motioned for them to follow him. She shivered  a bit. It was the end of spring—a week into June—but the temperature had dropped as the Land Cruiser had climbed.

After some time Parveen stopped and switched off the flash- light to freeze this moment in her memory. She could hear her watch ticking. Sharp, clean air filled her lungs. Charcoal-dark mountains loomed all around. The three of them seemed to be standing on the lip  of a  plateau. On the plain below, moon- light skimmed the black surface of the water. Overhead, the sky was webby with stars, arrayed in constellations that hadn't been visible back home. This night world might have been created moments before for all the relation it  bore to any version of night she'd ever seen.

Issa and Fawad were waiting. She returned slowly to self- consciousness, to the capacity to be embarrassed, and switched the flashlight back on. They angled up through a maze of lanes flanked by earthen walls, which hid the homes behind them. The flashlight did little more than illuminate Issa's back, the moon- light scarcely brushed their labyrinth, and in the dark every noise resounded: the scrape of dirt  beneath feet, the roll  of suitcase wheels, the unseen animals rustling in sleep, Parveen's breath. All of the walls looked alike, as did all of the wooden doors in them, including the one at which Issa stopped and pounded.

"Fereshta's house?" she asked. "Her husband's."

A lantern with legs opened the door, or so it first appeared. Then,  to Parveen's  growing  excitement, the man behind the light took form. This had to be Waheed, the husband Fereshta had left behind. He was so central to Mother Afghanistan, Gideon Crane's  memoir, that Parveen felt as if  she had summoned a storybook character from word to flesh.

Those words weren't flattering. Crane had called Waheed "a bearded nebbish,"  depicting him as  a  nervous, garrulous man bullied by life and unable to step up and save the mother of his children as she lay dying in childbirth. Whether his wife lived or died would be God's will, he'd pronounced. The photograph of Waheed that Parveen had seen most often—the one that seemed to accompany every newspaper story about the clinic Crane had built and was in the memoir too—didn't dispel the impression of weakness. In it the much taller Crane had his arm roped around Waheed, whose eyes were nearly  closed.

Waheed greeted Parveen and Fawad as  well  as  Issa, then ushered them in from the path. She couldn't see much of the space inside the wall and perhaps because of that could smell it all the more: the earthy odors of animals and manure, grassy hay, woodsmoke. From behind her came lowing and a sudden hot blast of animal breath. She shrieked, then regretted it, not wanting to remind everyone so quickly that she was an outsider. She sneaked  a  look  behind her. It was a  cow. And Issa was laughing.

The small room Waheed led them into once they'd removed their  shoes was lit  only by a couple of lanterns. Its walls appeared to be adobe, hairy with bits of straw. Its furnishings were negligible—a rug cool underfoot, cushions lining the walls.

Male visitors were received in this room in order to safe-guard the purdah of the women in the house. Issa and Fawad sat on the floor  and leaned back against the cushions, and Parveen did the same. Waheed unrolled a vinyl tablecloth, and two sons, the younger of whom was missing a hand, brought the food in and set it down before them. Parveen was the only female, although the voices of others drifted in from above. In this borderland between men and women she would live.

Excerpted from A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldman. Copyright © 2019 by Amy Waldman. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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