Soldiers of God
Soldiers of God from Amazon

In Association with Amazon.comSoldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Pakhistan and Afghanistan, by Robert D. Kaplan. Vintage Books, New York City, 2001. Paper $14.00. Originally published by Houghton Mifflin in 1990.

Reviewed by Maya del Mar

I recommend this book for its keen insights on Afghanistan and its people, as well as its enormous readability. Robert Kaplan is a traveler, a scholar, a journalist, a world affairs expert, and an extraordinarily fine writer. He has published eight books on travel and foreign affairs, which have been translated into many languages. I previously read one of them, Balkan Ghosts, which, like Soldiers of God, shone a great light on place, people, and history.

Robert Kaplan is a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly. He covered the mujahidin-Russian war during the 1980s, and wrote this book after the Russians retreated from Afghanistan. He traveled with the guerrillas, shared their meager (and terrible) food, and admired their piety and stoicism in the face of terrible hardship. Most of us couldn’t imagine living for a day as they did every day, with never a complaint about their living conditions or their injuries.

For an understanding of troubled areas, particularly Central Asia and the Middle East, there is no finer source than Robert Kaplan. Robert travels with a knapsack, and his baggage seems to be a notebook, pen, and source books on the history and culture of the area through which he’s traveling. He interviews people, sometimes the same person over a period of months or years, and gives us pictures of people and their background and motives. He sets these interviews against a background of descriptions of the countryside, the community, the history, the culture, and the politics of the region.

He is succinct, has an incredible facility with language, and imparts a richness and depth of insight and understanding which is amazing in the space of a short book.

Robert doesn’t forget women, but Afghan men pretty much do. His second chapter is called "A World of Men," and details the exclusion of women from much of Afghan society. Sara and I had just seen movies of Gurdjeff in Afghanistan, and Sufis in Afghanistan, and noted there was not a woman to be seen in either one.

I haven’t finished this book, but I know that the text is followed by an epilogue written recently about Robert’s return to the area, and the changes he finds. Robert’s travels continually criss-cross these areas, and in his books he often talks about how a particular place or person has changed since he last saw them.

As I move around and hear ignorant comments (which included me before I read this book) on Afghanis and Afghanistan, I wish everyone could get the information, insight, and background which reading Soldiers of God provides.