In the spring of 1997, James Fergusson, a young freelance British correspondent, encounters a local Pashtun interpreter named Mir in rebel-controlled Afghanistan. They soon become firm friends, with Mir an invaluable guide not only to the battle zone, but to the country’s complex politics, culture and traditions. Not long after James’s return home, Mir and his family are forced to flee Afghanistan, fearing for their lives. When Mir arrives in London seeking asylum, it is to James that he turns for help. Now their roles reverse: the guided becomes the guide as James introduces Mir to the bewildering customs of the infidel West.
Yet in many ways it is Mir who remains the guide – this time to a side of his own homeland that James had never noticed or engaged with before. He discovers whole communities of Afghans scattered throughout London, and the shadow economy in which asylum seekers are forced to work. He accompanies Mir through the labyrinthine asylum system, with its endless round of tribunals, appeals, delays and disappointments; and introduces him to the important things in life like Tesco’s, bank holiday weekends and the seaside.
James Fergusson’s moving and remarkable portrait of a singular friendship gives a human face to one of the most tangled and emotive issues of our time. Powerfully evoking the no-man’s land between the Third and the First Worlds, between Islam and the West, ‘Kandahar Cockney’ also places a very contemporary story in a greater historical context, showing how surprisingly enduring the legacy of Britain’s colonial era really is.
Reviews of Kandahar Cockney
‘Excellent, gripping and thought-provoking…I thoroughly enjoyed it.’ John Simpson
‘I read “Kandahar Cockney” in a single sitting. Not only is it suspenseful, but the descent into the strange and terrifying world of the asylum-seeker is both revealing and told with humour. This book is a bridge between two very different but sometimes oddly similar cultures. It reinforces my conviction that the British and the Afghans share many traits and values: a great sense of humour, abundant self-control, cheerful resilience in the face of enormous odds and a courage that is often heroic.’ Nick Danziger
‘Part travel, part memoir, part biography, “Kandahar Cockney” is more than a remarkable and vivid portrait of an Afghan refugee in Britain: it captures the essence of modern exile itself, with its expectations and hopes, its setbacks and fears, and the immensity of the cultural divide between East and West. Sad, funny and poignant, it also provides a disturbing look at the British legal system in its too often arbitrary, casual – and racist – dealings with those who seek asylum. I don’t think I have ever read a better picture of what exile means. A wonderful read: terrific writing. I loved the book.’ Caroline Moorehead