Summary and book reviews of A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldman

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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  • Published:
    Aug 2019, 400 pages

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Book Summary

For readers of Cutting for Stone and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a "breathtaking and achingly nuanced" (Kirkus, starred review) new novel from the author of the national bestseller The Submission about the journey of a young Afghan-American woman trapped between her ideals and the complicated truth.

Parveen Shamsa, a college senior in search of a calling, feels pulled between her charismatic and mercurial anthropology professor and the comfortable but predictable Afghan-American community in her Northern California hometown. When she discovers a bestselling book called Mother Afghanistan, a memoir by humanitarian Gideon Crane that has become a bible for American engagement in the country, she is inspired. Galvanized by Crane's experience, Parveen travels to a remote village in the land of her birth to join the work of his charitable foundation.

When she arrives, however, Crane's maternity clinic, while grandly equipped, is mostly unstaffed. The villagers do not exhibit the gratitude she expected to receive. And Crane's memoir appears to be littered with mistakes, or outright fabrications. As the reasons for Parveen's pilgrimage crumble beneath her, the U.S. military, also drawn by Crane's book, turns up to pave the old road to the village, bringing the war in their wake. When a fatal ambush occurs, Parveen must decide whether her loyalties lie with the villagers or the soldiers -- and she must determine her own relationship to the truth.

Amy Waldman, who reported from Afghanistan for the New York Times after 9/11, has created a taut, propulsive novel about power, perspective, and idealism, brushing aside the dust of America's longest-standing war to reveal the complicated truths beneath. A Door in the Earth is the rarest of books, one that helps us understand living history through poignant characters and unforgettable storytelling.

Chapter 1
Arrival

As soon  as she saw the  road,  she understood how  it had seduced him. Unmarked and unpaved, it rose up between mauve foothills, then slipped through them. If you were bored, as Gideon Crane had been—by your traveling companion, by the very journey (to  where, exactly?) that  you'd insisted on undertaking—the mouth of the road would have leaped at you like a spark. You would've ordered the driver, as Crane did, to leave the highway, and when he refused to risk either his truck or his payload of melons to satisfy  a foreigner's curiosity about a shit road to nowhere, you too would have climbed from the truck and taken the road by donkey.

Parveen Shams was being carried onto the same turnoff  in a white Land Cruiser, which made her admire Crane's grit all the more. She was giddy at retracing his steps, six years after he'd first  made this journey. In  his memoir—the  book that had propelled ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New York Times - Lara Feigel
Waldman is particularly gifted at giving tangible reality to ethical dilemmas, so the reader shares Parveen’s bemused sense that there are no correct choices. Waldman is less skilled — perhaps because less interested — at creating three-dimensional characters. The most vibrant is Parveen herself, but Waldman situates her narrative perspective neither quite within Parveen nor at an ironic remove, so that even she never becomes fully alive. Nevertheless, it’s easy to overlook these flaws because the book’s moral questions feel so urgent. Few contemporary authors have shown so expertly that well-intentioned intervention can be the most dangerous kind of all.

Entertainment Weekly - Leah Greenblatt
Waldman, a former South Asia bureau chief for the New York Times, brings inborn knowledge to her storytelling (see her outstanding 2011 debut, The Submission), and she writes about the clash of cultures and ideals here with clean-lined, eye-level empathy. Though Parveen stays credulous far longer than she should, A Door in the Earth still manages to make the political feel personal in a way that only the finest reporting — or the best kind of fiction — can. B+

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Waldman delivers a breathtaking and achingly nuanced examination of the grays in a landscape where black and white answers have long been the only currency. A bone-chilling takedown of America's misguided use of soft power.

Publishers Weekly
Waldman, a former reporter for the New York Times out of Kabul, paints a blistering portrayal of the misguided aspirations and convenient lies that have fed the war in Afghanistan. This is an impressive novel.

Author Blurb Elliot Ackerman, National Book Award finalist for Dark at the Crossing
Some stories stick with you, becoming like your own memories. When I finished the last page of this book I could've sworn it had all happened to me.

Author Blurb Nell Freudenberger, author of Lost and Wanted
The author's vast experience in the region is evident in the vividness with which she creates the social world of an Afghan mountain village. But the miracle of A Door in the Earth is that a novel which tackles such urgent and necessary questions of politics, history, and the compromises of war can also be so unflaggingly searing and gripping, and bring its characters so indelibly to life.

Author Blurb George Packer, National Book Award winner for The Unwinding
I haven't read anything more acute about the consequences of good American intentions sent abroad. Waldman's moral vision, spare and unsparing prose style, and feel for the way history upsets settled lives all make A Door in the Earth one of the essential books of the post-9/11 era.

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