A Meeting with a Leopard!
Sharifullah Dorani was a guest speaker at our Annual General Meeting on 14th September 2022. Sharifullah talked about his newly published novel, The Lone Leopard. A number of our staff members and volunteer tutors at BRASS have read the book and here are their reviews:
Brian Cunningham’s Review
‘In The Lone Leopard, the reader is drawn into a time when historical events – several invasions of Afghanistan over the past four decades in particular – give rise to nationalistic and religious conflicts, turning four best friends (and their families) into sworn enemies, and shattering the country into pieces. The principles of Afghanistan's culture, the code of honour, is central to the four characters' lives, as it is to the lives of most Afghans. The principles of Afghanistan's culture include independence, courage, loyalty, justice, revenge, righteousness, pride, honour, chastity, hospitality, love, forgiveness, faith (Islam) and respect of elders (parents in particular), among others', and some of these themes, in addition to jealousy, prejudice, betrayal, guilt and atonement, the book explores.
Emotionally, it is not an easy book to read for a Western reader, but if you stick to it, you will learn a great deal about Afghanistan and its people.’
Andrea Tulloch’s Review
‘The Lone Leopard is a heart-wrenching, yet hopeful story of family, friendship and love set against the nationalistic and religious conflicts of Afghanistan's last four decades.
It is an extremely good read as I had not fully understood all of the issues involved in Afghanistan, but the book gave me an eye-opening account with facts and figures. Nicely written and using different characters, the book also gave me a clearer understanding of what influence the different foreign invaders had over the years in Afghanistan. I would say this book is a very good start to the many issues and experiences of the people of Afghanistan.’
Jane Marriott’s Review
‘I didn't always enjoy reading The Lone Leopard, finding it often quite painful, but I am so glad I did. It is a searing account of what life in Afghanistan was like after the Russians had left, and then under the Taliban regime. Mainly a political exposé, it is not wholly political; Ahmad's childhood experiences are recognisably akin to most people's childhood experiences and the book allows the reader to reflect that, in spite of all the differences in our human experience, the human psyche is similar all over the world.
It is an account of a suffering country, of how under extreme conditions it is almost impossible for 'good' to flourish. And it is also a love story.
For me, it was an eye-opener. I found it absorbing, very upsetting at times, and revealing about a country I know so little about. I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to 'enter' Afghanistan mentally and emotionally.’
Andrea Jones’s Review
‘A fascinating read. The story begins in the 1990s interweaving a background of Afghani culture, history, and language, in the story of 15 year old Ahmed's search for answers during growing turmoil in Afghanistan. Sharifullah Dorani expertly develops a story which gets to the heart, not only of Ahmed and Frishta, but also of Afghani's historical events that have shaped the lives of Afghanis today.'
Keith Shortley’s Review
‘Afghanistan has been a challenge to all foreigners for centuries. Their wild country has never been tamed despite multiple interventions. A wider understanding of this amazing country by the international community has to be an essential component of improving the relationship between Afghanistan and the rest of the world.
In The Lone Leopard, Sharif has taken on the huge challenge of introducing ‘ordinary’ life in Afghanistan to a Western readership. This is a very tough read – and necessarily so. Commencing in the late 20th Century, the story brings to life the physical, religious and cultural journeying of an Afghani family from its Kabul home through a process of forced migration to life in the west.
This is a must read for anyone working with or interested in learning about Afghanis. It would also be an excellent option for book clubs.’
15-year-old Ahmad finds it hard to live by tradition among Russians and 'Communist Afghans' in the liberal Makroryan, known as the 'Little Moscow of Kabul'. It becomes harder with the arrival in the neighbourhood of the 16-year-old Frishta. Naturally, their conflicting outlooks on tradition clash. Frishta calls Ahmad a shameful coward, and Ahmad accuses Frishta of being a 'bad woman' who has picked a war with half of the population and their way of life.
Does Ahmad really lack courage and loyalty? Is Frishta really dishonourable? It is 1990s Afghanistan, where a man is stripped of character if he is proved a coward, and where a woman is merely seen as valuable goods, and even a perception of unchastity will lose her all her worth. And, worse, is what Ahmad does to Frishta justifiable? By the time Ahmad and Frishta have answers to these questions, it is too late, and their lives will never be the same. The mujahedeen run over Kabul, and the civil war begins, compelling Ahmad to flee to Russia and then to England.
But Ahmad does not realise that one day he will be forced to return to the homeland where his past catches up with him and puts him in a situation in which he has to choose to either live like a coward, by killing a once-loyal friend, or die with courage.
Sharifullah Dorani was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan, and claimed asylum in the UK in 1999. He has undergraduate and master's degrees in Law from The University of Northampton and UCL, respectively. He completed his PhD on the US War in Afghanistan at Durham University and authored the acclaimed America in Afghanistan. Sharifullah frequently returns to Afghanistan to carry out research. He is currently South Asia and the Middle Eastern Editor at The Centre for Strategic Research and Analysis (CESRAN International) and has written nearly two dozen articles on Afghanistan (and the broader region), international relations and law. He lives with his family in Bedford, England.
The idea for writing this book was conceived in 1992 when the 'pro-Communist' Najibullah regime collapsed and the mujahideen took over Kabul. Turning Shia against Sunni and vice versa, setting Afghanistan's main ethnic groups of Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek against each other, and accusing each other of uniting with the remnants of pro-Communist members and thus not being Islamic enough, the 15 or so mujahideen groups fought each other in the streets of Kabul, killing tens of thousands of innocent Kabulis, displacing hundreds of thousands, and turning half of Kabul into mudbrick rubble with bombs, rockets and cannon fire.
Taking refuge in the basements of our blocks while the gunfire, shelling and fighting continued, I decided (if I made it alive) to write about what we ordinary Afghans went through. Unlike thousands of Kabulis, I was fortunate enough to live, and 18 years later, in 2010, I started writing about the experience: after 12 years of writing (and extensive research), The Lone Leopard is the result. Ahmad, the protagonist, therefore, gives a first-hand account of what I (and most Afghans) have experienced over the past four decades in Afghanistan (and in exile).
[THE LONE LEOPARD by Sharifullah Dorani is published by S&M Publishing House (28 July 2022) and is available in eBook, paperback and hardcover formats.