Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Wasted Vigil

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The Wasted Vigil

by Nadeem Aslam

The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam X
The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2009, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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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 intervened to maintain the communist regime in Afghanistan. During this same year, President Carter, who saw this altercation as critical to the Cold War struggle, pledged support to the insurgent forces. Once the Soviets invaded, they quickly took control of the urban centers and major military bases, which had the undesired effect of exacerbating nationalist fervor and fueling the rebellion. The war soon devolved into a pattern of concerted offenses by the Soviets and guerrilla warfare from the Mujahideen.

In 1989, after ten years of fighting, the Soviets exited the country as no solution or victory to the conflict was in sight. Over one million Afghans were killed during this war, and five million fled the country.

After the Soviet Union removed their troops, the Mujahideen attempted to establish a government but ended up fighting each other in what was later termed the Afghan Civil War.

After several years of infighting, a village mullah (Mullah Mohammed Omar) organized a new armed movement with the backing of Pakistan. This movement became known as the Taliban, meaning "students of Islam". By 1994, the Taliban had largely defeated the militias and controlled most of the country. The remaining opposition factions allied themselves and became known as the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (a.k.a. Northern Alliance).

For more about Afghanistan, please see the sidebar to A Thousand Splendid Suns.

*Mujahideen is the plural of mujahid - the word used to describe a Muslim involved in a holy war or jihad. Translated literally, it means someone who struggles.

This article was originally published in September 2008, and has been updated for the September 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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