31 Books Set in + About Afghanistan

Hill of dusty, square Afghan houses with text reading "books about Afghanistan"

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Often with my book lists, it’s easy to start with an intro about travel and reading books before you visit a country. But Afghanistan is a country most of us will probably never visit.

But reading about places we’ll never get to go is just as important (if not more). Afghanistan is a country with a rich culture and history, and yet in the West we have often seen it as just a place where we have fought wars.

And I really hope some of these books about Afghanistan will help you see this country from a new perspective.

Looking for similar reads? You might also like these books about Palestine.

Novels About Afghanistan

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This is probably one of the most well-known books about Afghanistan, and y’all it really is so good. It’s about a friendship between two boys who love fighting kites. But when one betrays the other after witnessing a terrible crime (content warnings for sure) it impacts them both for years to come. For fans of page-turning literary fiction.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Everyone knows The Kite Runner, but I actually thing A Thousand Splendid Suns is Hosseini’s best novel. It’s about two women, Mariam and Laila, who end up married to the same terrible man and form a friendship and bond as they try to survive. It’s a tough book and definitely tore my heart in pieces, but it’s also so beautiful and well worth the read. For fans of page-turning literary fiction and stories of strong women.

Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi

In 1978 Kabul, Sitara is in the palace with her family because her father works for the king. And when a coup takes place, her entire family is killed and she manages to escape. She goes on to live in the US, but years later she returns to Afghanistan to find closure and learn more about what happened. I really enjoyed this book and kept wanting to find out what was going to happen, and even though it deals with some hard stuff, the tone of the writing kept it from being too heavy. For fans of historical and contemporary fiction.

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

This is Hashimi’s first novel, and it tells the stories of two generations of women in the same family who made the decision to save themselves and their families by dressing as boys. It’s an custom called bacha posh that allows girls to dress as boys (and therefore attend school and have other rights) until they are of marriageable age. But what happens when they grow older? For fans of historical and contemporary fiction.

The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra, Translated by John Cullen

Under Taliban rule in Kabul, Mohsen has lost his shop and his wife is confined to the home. One day, wondering the streets, he is caught up in the frenzy of a crowd stoning a woman, and his actions have far-reaching consequences. Meanwhile, Atiq, whose prisoner the woman is, has fully embraced the Taliban, but struggles as his wife suffers a terminal illness. For fans of literary fiction.

The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi

As war and violence is ongoing in Afghanistan, a woman sits at the bedside of her husband who has a bullet in his brain. There, she tells him all kinds of things, unsure if he can hear her or not, and confesses her deepest secrets. It gives readers of glimpse of what it is like to be a woman in Afghanistan and is for fans of literary fiction.

The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam

Jeo and Mikal are two brothers in Pakistan, and when Mikal decides to cross the border into Afghanistan to care for the wounded during America’s post 9/11 war, Jeo decides to go as well so he can protect Mikal. What follows is a family story about the impacts of war. For fans of literary fiction.

The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N. Murari

In this novel, the Taliban sees the game of cricket as an opportunity to change their reputation on the world stage. And as they begin a campaign to encourage the development of cricket teams for international competition, Rukhsana sees it as an opportunity to help her family leave Afghanistan. For fans of women’s fiction and historical fiction.

The Opium Prince by Jasmine Aimaq

In 1970s Afghanistan, Daniel, whose father was Afghan, is returning to Kabul working with a US foreign aid agency trying to wipe out the poppies that produce opium. But when an accident causes the death of a young girl, he is haunted by what happened. And meanwhile, there’s someone who definitely doesn’t want him to succeed in his mission of eradicating poppies. For fans of literary thrillers.

The Honey Thief by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman

While so much of the fiction about Afghanistan is focused on war and loss, this novel revels in the storytelling traditions of the Afghan people. Mazari tell stories from his native Afghanistan that are full of magic and myth. This book will make you feel like you are sitting around a fire listening to an incredible storyteller. For fans of myths and legends.

The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai

In this book of short stories, Kochai explore life both in Afghanistan and in the Afghan diaspora in the United States. The stories especially examine the lives of young people who struggle living between two cultures and are always thinking about the violence in their home country. For fans of short story collections and literary fiction.

My Pen Is the Wing of a Bird: New Fiction by Afghan Women

This collection of short stories is a project from Untold Narratives, gathering the voices of 18 women living in Afghanistan. Here they write about family, culture, war, and more. For fans of short stories.

Non-Fiction Books About Afghanistan

Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother’s Letter to her Son by Homeria Qaderi, Translated by Zaman Stanizai

When Qaderi gave birth to her son, she had to walk to the hospital around the wreckage of violence, the road having been closed because of bombings. But life only gets tougher from there as her husband takes her son with him after divorcing her. She writes this book hoping to reach her son, and also tells the story of her life growing up in Afghanistan. For fans of memoirs.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Women Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

In the face of Taliban suppression and war, one woman in Afghanistan mobilized her family and community by starting a tailoring business. It brought hope to so many, although in the wake of the Taliban takeover in 2021, one can’t help but read this book of hope with some bittersweetness (I don’t know how things are currently though.) For fans of narrative nonfiction.

The Favored Daughter: One Woman’s Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future by Fawzia Koofi and Nadene Ghouri

When Koofi was born, she was abandoned and was then raised in the midst of abuse. However, she eventually became the first female Speaker of Parliament of Afghanistan and spent years fighting for women’s rights. Again, this might be a tough one to read post 2021, but because she also tackles what she believed would happen if the US withdrew, I think there is a lot to learn here too. For fans of memoirs.

Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul by Taran N. Khan

Khan is a journalist who worked in Kabul, and in this book she explores the streets and culture of the city and the way it has transformed. Pre-2021, she was seeing people work for a new Kabul, but then as troops began to withdraw she also saw what was coming. For fans of travel memoirs.

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, Translated by Ingrid Christophersen

This journalistic non-fiction title looks at a family in Afghanistan, and a man who was determined to bring books to the people of Kabul. For fans of narrative nonfiction.

No Good Men Among the Living: America, The Taliban, And the War Through Afghan Eyes by Anand Gopal

Published in 2015, this book details America’s war on terror in Afghanistan from the perspective of Afghans. Gopal, a journalist, follows three people: a Taliban commander, a US-backed warlord, and an Afghan housewife caught between two sides. For fans of political books and histories of conflicts.

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll

If you want a deep dive into the history of Afghanistan and America’s involvement in the country, then this is the book for you. Coll takes look at the full history of America in Afghanistan, especially the CIA’s role during the Soviet invasion, their failure to capture Bin Laden before 9/11, and more. This one also won the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction. For fans of political histories.

Book of Queens: The True Story of the Middle Eastern Horsewomen Who Fought the War on Terror by Pardis Mahdavi

You may be surprised to know that Afghanistan actually has a long history of female warriors. This book examines that history and the Caspian horses those women have used for centuries, including how they trained them with the US Army. For fans of history and untold stories.

The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders by Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Lefèvre

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1986, Lefèvre was working with Doctors Without Borders as a photojournalist. This book is a graphic memoir and a look at the dangerous work Doctors Without Borders did, and it combines art and Lefèvre’s photography. For fans of graphic novels.

No Ordinary Assignment: A Memoir by Jane Ferguson

Ferguson has spent much of her career as a war reporter, and in this memoir she takes us inside her dangerous assignments. While this book spans from Yemen to Syria and more, she spends a good chunk of time in Afghanistan. In fact, she was one of the last Western journalists left in Afghanistan in 2021. While I found the beginning of this book a little slow, once I got going, I couldn’t put it down and found her experiences and her reflections on the impact of her job fascinating. For fans of memoirs.

Children’s Books About Afghanistan

A Sky-Blue Bench by Bahram Rahman, Illustrated by Peggy Collins

When Aria doesn’t have a seat at school and is uncomfortable sitting on the floor, she decides to learn how to build a bench herself. This is a picture book about girls overcoming the barriers to education in Afghanistan. Recommended ages: 4-7 years.

The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman, Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Going from Kabul to villages and refugee camps, Pari travels on the library bus with her Mama. Her mother is teaching girls how to read and write, and she can’t wait for her turn. Recommended ages 5-8 years.

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter

After her parents disappear, Nasreen won’t say a word. So her grandmother hopes that enrolling her in a secret school just for girls will help. This is a story about hope and education, and it’s based on a true story. Recommended ages: 6-10 years.

Brave with Beauty: A Story of Afghanistan by Maxine Rose Schur, Illustrated by Patricia Grush, Robin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi

In 15th-century Afghanistan, Queen Goharshad was a powerful monarch. She ruled over a period of time full of art and cultural developments, and this picture book tells the story of her life and reign. Recommended ages: 7-9 years.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, Illustrated by Doug Chayka

In a refugee camp in Afghanistan, two girls each find one sandal of a matching pair in a collection of donated clothing. They decide they will share the sandals, each taking turns with the shoes, and become friends. Recommended ages: 7-10 years.

Middle Grade Books Set in Afghanistan

One Half from the East by Nadia Hashimi

When Obayda’s family needs help, her aunt decides to dress her as a boy (a bacha posh) for new opportunities. But once it’s time to become a girl in society again, it’s hard for Obayda to give up her new freedoms. Recommended ages: 8-12 years.

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai

While escaping Afghanistan, Fadi’s sister Mariam becomes lost and gets left behind. As his family adjusts to life in the US, they are still determined to find Mariam. And Fadi sees a new photography contest as an opportunity to return to Afghanistan and hopefully locate his sister. Recommended ages: 9-12 years.

Extra Credit by Andrew Clements, Illustrated by Mark Elliott

For an extra credit assignment, Abby must find a pen pal in a faraway country. She ends up writing to a boy in Afghanistan, but when her letter arrives it creates all kinds of drama in the village because a boy can’t correspond to a girl, yet a girl doesn’t have the education to write the letters herself. Recommended ages: 9-12 years.

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

Under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Parvana’s father is arrested. Determined to help her family, she disguises herself as a boy so she can work to earn money for the family. This is the first book in a series. Recommended ages: 9-12 years.

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