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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Dinner's main course was a platter of rice topped with raisins and carrots. Parveen knew there had to be meat buried inside because she'd grown up in Northern California eating the same dish. Qabuli pilau was a staple  of all family gatherings, celebra- tions and burials alike, the lamb pressure-cooked, the carrots chopped to matchsticks, the raisins sautéed until they plumped, the rice boiled, the sugar, salt, cumin, and broth added ... She'd sometimes found the number of steps tedious, but now it was a comfort to recite them in her head. The admixture of past and present was powerful, as if her family there and this family here were part of one clan, sharing an unseen network of roots. Nonetheless, in  the interest of  protecting  her stomach, she steered clear of the hunk of meat once it was unearthed and hoped no one would notice.
During the meal Issa ignored Parveen  as he talked to Waheed without cease. She resented his volubility  all the more because she couldn't fully understand it. She spoke quite a bit of Dari, and she'd spent two weeks with her relatives in Kabul working to improve it, but she was catching only words and phrases, just as she'd caught  intermittent  glimpses of vistas on the switchback mountain road. It was because she kept dozing off, she realized with embarrassment, and she was thankful when at last Issa stood, yawned, and petted his mustache, preparing to decamp for the mosque, where he and her cousin would sleep.

"You should put a light bulb in here," Issa instructed Waheed, gesturing around the room where they'd eaten.

"Why, so I can see your ugly face more clearly?"

The quickness of the joke, if it was a joke, raised Waheed in her estimation.

As she bade her cousin farewell—he  was driving out with Issa in the morning—tears started to come to her eyes. They hadn't exactly bonded during the trip, and they'd met only two weeks before. But he was her last connection, however attenuated, to her family.

Waheed led her outside, up a set of stairs, and into a room so bright  it  blinded her. The  source, she saw once her eyes adjusted, was a  single light  bulb hanging from the ceiling. It was the contrast—to lantern light, to moonlight—that  made it so strident. Before Parveen could get her bearings, women and girls surrounded her, crowding in to plant perfunctory kisses on her cheeks and clasp her hands in theirs, which were callused and bark-dry. She stood back to study them but they closed in again, brushing her with their long dresses.

Was she well? they asked. Was her family well? How was her health? How was her trip? The greetings continued for quite a while, in the customary Afghan fashion. Their names came and went. Their  odors—smoke, sweat, meat, oil,  breast milk,  the smells of cooking and mothering—stayed with her. At five feet five inches, she wasn't tall, but she towered over the group. If she'd grown up on a village diet, she thought, she likely would have been as small.

"We kept the generator running late for you," Waheed broke in, and the women fell silent.

His  bluntness wasn't endearing. In  contrast to Crane's  description of him as overly verbose, Waheed seemed to feel no obligation to say other than what he thought. Under the stark light, she had her first good look at him. Like that of most rural Afghans, his skin was sun-cured and lined. Funny that in the picture with Crane, his eyes were closed, because they were his most striking feature, nearly beautiful, the color of dark amber.

Parveen didn't know if he was intimating that she should offer to pay for the extra fuel. When it came to money, she didn't know what was expected of her beyond the seventy-five-dollar- a-month "contribution" to the family's expenses that Crane's foundation had suggested she make. She didn't  want to take advantage of Fereshta's family. Yet she also didn't want the family taking advantage of her.

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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