Advance Praise & Reviews


“These are poems of love and war and friendship and tell us more about Afghanistan than a million news reports. Anybody claiming to be an Afghan expert should read this before giving their next expert opinion.”

Mohammad Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes and Our Lady of Alice Bhatti

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“Afghanistan has a rich and ancient tradition of epic poetry celebrating resistance to foreign invasion and occupation. This extraordinary collection is remarkable as a literary project -- uncovering a seam of war poetry few will know ever existed, and presenting to us for the first time the black turbaned Wilfred Owens of Wardak. But it is also an important political project: humanising and giving voice to the aspirations, aesthetics, emotions and dreams of the fighters of a much-caricatured and still little-understood resistance movement that is about to defeat yet another foreign occupation.”

William Dalrymple, author of The Last Mughal and the forthcoming Return of a King: Shah Shuja and the First Anglo-Afghan War

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“A remarkable and important book that reveals a hitherto concealed side to the harshly perceived Afghan Taliban. In Poetry of the Taliban, we see that within the movement there are warriors who have wounded hearts, lyrical souls, and a passionate love of language.”

Jon Lee Anderson, New Yorker staff writer and author of The Lion’s Grave

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“By turn angry, idealistic, or cynically witty, these Taliban poets can leave none unmoved by verse that conjures up Persian metaphysics, Muslim traditions and a Pashtun quest for honour. Indeed, as enemies’ triumphs and ruination in their mountain homeland tests these mujahedin’s faith in God, some even echo the shock, sense of betrayal and despair of Britain's First World War poets. Thanks to clear and empathetic translation, Western readers will find here a rare door to the emotions and motivations of Afghans trapped in bloody events far beyond their control, and will soon forget which side they are supposed to be on.”

Hugh Pope, author of Dining with al-Qaeda and Sons of the Conquerors

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“Poetry of the Taliban is a highly original and extremely important book. By making the Taliban’s poems available in English, the book arguably sheds more light on the Taliban and its resilience than could any organisational chart or force assessment. More significantly, it draws attention to the crucial role that aesthetics and emotions – as opposed to resources and doctrines – play in military organisations. As such, this may be the first poetry book of strategic significance. My only regret is that it was not available earlier to Western policymakers and military personnel.”

Thomas Hegghammer, author of Jihad In Saudi Arabia and co-author of al-Qaida in its Own Words

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It is not simply that readers might gain perspectives “from the other side” regarding international involvement in Afghanistan, perspectives that are sorrowfully defeated and ragefully triumphant, bitterly powerless and bitingly satirical. It is not simply that readers may vicariously experience things that are radically foreign to their personal lives, but that are nonetheless part of a shared twenty-first century history linking the Atlantic world with the Hindu Kush: things like drone strikes, night raids, military incarceration, eroded personal sovereignty and diluted national sovereignty. It is not even that these poems provide insight into the ethical worlds and the personal aspirations of a full range of today's Taliban, in which inchoate desires for freedom and deliverance and a longing for beauty sit alongside the authoritarian impulses more regularly seen by foreign audiences. All this is present, along with more still. These poems expose something of the full, textured, deeply conflicted humanity of those who actively consume and recirculate them, those who may be insurgents at the same time they are humans. In providing such a picture, the “insurgent” is restored a sense of humanity, and agency, and thus even (as the editors note) an accountability for violence that would be impossible to expect from a mere avatar.”

Dr James Caron, University of Pennsylvania

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“This is an essential work. The book holds its own as an apolitical work of aesthetics, but actually is full of political meaning. It delves into the Afghan imagination and discovers aesthetic wealth that those content with the superficialities of press releases or think tank reports could not dream of. This was supposed to be Alex and Felix’s hobby book, poems assembled like pressed flowers from a seaside holiday. In compiling the poetry of the Taliban, these young scholars have preserved the intimate and the expansive, ranging from pastoral imagery of the Afghan countryside, to satire on global politics and rich references to Afghan, Muslim and biblical history. In the process the authors go beyond humanising the Taliban towards understanding them. The same Taliban, known to the world as cultural morons, turn out to have inspired a corpus of poetry which links to the finest civilisational accomplishments of Pashto, Farsi, Urdu and Arabic. The links are real and the imagination irrepressible as will be vouched by anyone who has spent time sitting on cushions in a hujra listening to the banter. Incarcerated Taliban fighters compose verse. In the era of Amr bin Maroof, Taliban tried to eradicate cassettes and now they exchange MP3s via Bluetooth. Of course the Movement struggled to stamp out song. “We Muslims try to ban everything we love”. But those Pashtuns who became Taliban brought with them and nurtured a cultural tradition. Methinks that as departing NATO armies bury their press statements in obscure computer archives it will be the poets who will inherit the earth. It will be the composers of tales of glory, suffering, beauty and love in a time of war, the Pashto taranas and ghazals, whose account of Afghanistan will endure. If anyone still wonders on which cultural resources the Taliban drew to inspire a people to resist a dull global plan to modernise them, read on.”

Michael Semple, former EU representative in Afghanistan

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