A Horse Walks into a Bar
by David Grossman (year)
translated from the xxx by xxx (year)
publisher (year)
xxx pp

Jamil Jan Kochai first showed up in The New Yorker in 2019 with a strangely titled story: “Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain,” which is a real video game. In that story, which was well received here, Kochai uses, along with the video game, the second person perspective to look at events in Afghanistan. Here he is also playing with form a bit: this story is told in a series of paragraphs that seem to come from a C.V. Here is the first, starting in Logar Province, Afghanistan:

1966-69: SHEEPHERDER, DEH-NAW, LOGAR

Duties included: leading sheep to the pastures near the Black Mountains; measuring the distance between the shadows of chinar trees on dirt roads; naming the sheep after prophets from the Quran, who, according to Hajji Atal, were all sheepherders at one point in their lives; reciting verses from the Quran to dispel djinns; borrowing fruit from neighbors’ orchards for sustenance; watching sheep; counting sheep; loving sheep; understanding the nature of sheep; protecting sheep from bandits, witches, wolves, rapists, demons, and half brothers (nicknamed the Captain and the King); taking younger brother, Watak, along to the pastures; swimming in a stream with Watak instead of watching sheep; losing two sheep; getting beaten by the Captain for losing sheep; leaving Watak at home, and never taking eyes off sheep again.

This continues, showing this individual’s various jobs, in various locations, through the next 50 years, ultimately ending up in California. Each talks about the duties he has, as he tries to survive.

I look forward to your thoughts on this story. I think Kochai is doing interesting, important work, and I like that I never quite know how he’s going to approach it. His story collection, The Haunting of Hajji Hotak (which appeared in The New Yorker) is coming out in July.

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