Afghanistan and the Middle East are hot topics in current world politics, so it is not altogether a surprise that many authors have started contemplating the history of these controversial countries and their relationship with the West. Nadeem Aslam is a writer originally from Pakistan who fled with his family when the regime frowned upon communists like his father. He published two novels about Pakistan culture, but The Wasted Vigil is his first try at the complicated country of Afghanistan. After researching the land, its history, and interviewing refuges, Aslam brings a story that is tragic, painful, pointed, and political.
The story takes place in modern day, although much of it actually stems from over twenty years before when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan took place. Marcus, an English doctor who married a forward thinking Afghan woman, is trapped inside his once-happy home by the memories of his family. Although there is nothing really left in his home but tragedy, Marcus won't leave as long as he might find some information on his daughter Zameem's long lost son. Marcus takes in several emotional refuges into his home, including the Soviet born Lara, who searches for answers to her soldier brother's disappearance, and Zameen's American lover, David.
In time the little family embraces Casa, a jihadist who hides out with them out of fear that his own organization wants to kill him. David hides from Marcus and Lara the truth about Zameen, her death, and her connection to Lara's missing brother. The story moves fluidly between the present tense, where these characters all live nearby and yet are worlds apart, and then looking into the past and the journeys that brought each of them there. Marcus, in particular, has a harsh story about what happened when his marriage was no longer tolerated by the Taliban and what his wife was forced to do to him that drove her mad. At least half of the plot is about recollection of the past and how the Soviet war turned Afghanistan to where it is now, while the present story slowly spirals into hell for everyone involved.