Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 18, 2010

The Wasted Vigil (2008), by Nadeem Aslam

This book is so different to Maps for Lost Lovers!  The Wasted Vigil is Nadeem Aslam’s third book and it covers completely different territory to its IMPAC shortlisted predecessor.

It’s a love story of sorts set in Afghanistan, traversing its fraught history from the time of the Soviet Occupation to the American so-called War on Terror. There’s an eccentric Englishman called Marcus who lives alone in an outpost of bookish civilisation hoping one day to find his missing grandson; a Russian called Lara whose brother went missing in the Soviet era, a CIA operative called David, and a would-be terrorist called Casa seeking refuge from his compatriots because they think he’s defected to the West.  Where their stories intertwine is often beautiful, but this is a very confronting book because it doesn’t mince words about Afghan violence and there are some unforgettable scenes one would rather forget. Aslam also doesn’t mince words in his critique of Islamic belief, and not just the fundamentalist version of it.

I found it interesting, but was glad to get to the end of it.  With Australian soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan, I didn’t really want to read such a pessimistic view of Afghani culture and attitudes…

Reviews well worth reading are at The Independent, The Observer, The Guardian, and (less enthusiastic) The New York Times.

Author: Nadeem Aslam
Title: The Wasted Vigil
Publisher: Faber and Faber 2008
ISBN: 9780571238781
Source: Kingston Library


  1. […] Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam as featured on ANZ Litlovers Litblog. I have not read Maps for Lost Lovers which is this author’s most well-known novel…but […]


  2. I met this charming author a few years ago when he spoke to a small group about this book. His writing method is rather extreme as he shuts himself off from all contact until a book is finished. Although the book could be distressing, I prefer to remember some of its beauty and the insights into another land and culture. Nadeem Aslam inscribed my copy of his book “Love and solidarity always”! It keeps its place in the bookshelf.


  3. Hi Pam, thanks for joining in the conversation:)
    I agree that his writing is stunning, in both this and Maps for Lost Lovers. The images of flowers and butterflies and the scents of the perfume factory were gorgeous, and I liked the restrained tone of the conversations in Marcus’s house too.
    However I found it deeply distressing to read about the barbarity of tribal culture in Afghanistan when our young soldiers are putting their lives at risk to defend it. Since I first heard about it I have thought that the Afghan national sport of Buzkashi (a version of polo) was barbaric because they kill a goat rather than use a ball, but that scene where the young Russian soldier was substituted for the goat was appalling. I think I was happier not having these insights LOL.
    Still, lucky you to have an autographed copy, and I’ll certainly read his next one too!


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