I picked up a used James Michener book last week for a pretty penny (fifty to be exact; I love used bookstores). Though I’m no big fan of Michener I know he wrote Tales of the South Pacific, while Hawaii has been sitting on my bookshelf ready to be read. I was curious to see where this book, Caravans, takes place and was a little surprised to find that it was about Afghanistan.
Written in 1963 the story takes takes place in 1946 which describes a very, very primitive Afghanistan but one that has hope of a bright future one day. Without getting into politics, I found this exchange intriguing:
“Genghis Khan destroyed Afghanistan. In one assault on The City he killed nearly a million people. That’s not a poetic figure. It’s fact. In Kandahar the slaughter was enormous. Some refugees fled to this caravanserai…this room. They were sure the Mongols wouldn’t find them here, but they did….
“….First Genghis erected a pole right through the roof. Then the Mongols took their prisoners and tied their hands. Laid the first batch on the floor over there and lashed their feet to the pole…That’s why the pillar is twelve feet across.”
…”They just kept on laying the prisoners down, one layer on top of the other until they reached the roof. They didn’t kill a single person that day, the Mongols, but they kept soldiers stationed with sticks to push back the tongues when they protruded. And while the pillar of people was still living – those that hadn’t been pressed to death – they called in masons to plaster over the whole affair. If you’d scrape away the plaster you’d find skulls. But the government takes a dim view of scraping. It’s a kind of national monument. The Caravanserai of the Tongues….”
“…I tell you these things only to explain the terrible burdens under which Afghanistan has labored. Our major cities have been destroyed so many times. Do you know what I expect…seriously? When a thousand men like me have rebuilt Kabul and made it as great as The City once was, either the Russians or the Americans will come with their airplanes and bomb it to rubble.”
“Wait a minute!” I protested.
“I”m not speaking against Americans….or Russians. You won’t destroy us in anger. Genghis Khan wasn’t angry at us when he destroyed The City…And I’m not downcast, because we’re doomed to be destroyed again.”