Waldman does an admirable job of keeping multiple balls in the air. Her characters are fully realized individuals, as morally complex as the choices facing them ... The author is as deft at painting the physical landscape of this mountainous region as she is in drawing the interior landscape of her characters—and at showing where these collide with international and local politics ... A Door in the Earth is especially pointed in exposing the dangers of a 'white savior' mentality ... One of the pleasures of the novel is discovering Muslim women characters whose voices are varied and witty, and who are, in the best sense, ordinary ... Waldman is that rare novelist who writes from both the head and heart, combining high moral seriousness with moments of irony and humor. In A Door in the Earth, she has created a novel as moving as it is provocative.
Set in Afghanistan in mid-2009, it’s a troubling story of the moral ambiguity at the heart of the war and a painful depiction of the limits of idealism when it confronts the realities of a distant country’s culture, history and politics ... Waldman subtly reveals how our long engagement in Afghanistan hasn’t equipped us with wisdom that’s equal to our power ... In addition to the complex ethical questions it raises, what makes A Door in the Earth so rewarding is the care Waldman takes to make sure that the lives of the novel’s Afghani characters—especially those of the women and their roles in this deeply patriarchal society—are portrayed with the same honesty and empathy as Parveen’s ... Through Parveen, Amy Waldman offers a sadly realistic assessment of our predicament ... a bitter message, but one that’s more than justified, it seems, by the story that’s told in this devastating novel.
The book should be recognized as having some serious flaws ... Why doesn’t Parveen have a few more years and a graduate degree under her belt before heading off to one of the world’s most complex countries because of the inspiration of a book which proves to be totally fraudulent? How is it that in a country as male-dominated, conservative, and gender-segregated as Afghanistan does a young woman, and a foreigner at that, garner such respect and inclusion among the men, Afghan and American? How is her Dari sufficiently excellent that she can think, speak and translate fluidly? Why do the women of the household accept and come to love her when she has usurped them with her access to the powerbrokers and freedom of movement so absolutely denied to them? ... To her credit, Waldman works her way to more dialogue and less third-party narration as the story progresses. She also offers an array of stunning events as the denouement begins, born of poor judgement, western perspectives, and military and political interventions by egotists who don’t care to try understanding Afghanistan’s culture ... To the great relief of readers, finally Parveen gets it (after being rejected by her hosts), redeeming the important, and ultimately sensitive story that Waldman has written. It would have been even more gripping without its literary flaws.
...a story about America’s endless war in Afghanistan that layers moving storytelling onto penetrating reportage ... the book is more teeming panoply than intimate portrait. Waldman is particularly gifted at giving tangible reality to ethical dilemmas, so the reader shares Parveen’s bemused sense that there are no correct choices. Waldman is less skilled — perhaps because less interested — at creating three-dimensional characters. The most vibrant is Parveen herself, but Waldman situates her narrative perspective neither quite within Parveen nor at an ironic remove, so that even she never becomes fully alive. Nevertheless, it’s easy to overlook these flaws because the book’s moral questions feel so urgent. Few contemporary authors have shown so expertly that well-intentioned intervention can be the most dangerous kind of all ... A Door in the Earth makes a persuasive case for the novel as a powerful source of insight into our moral limitations. In an age when we’re tempted by Google and social media to believe we know more than we do, that insight is perhaps more valuable than ever.
...ambitious ...as politically provocative and challenging as its predecessor ... A Door in the Earth is a deeply chilling, multifaceted examination of not just the situation in Afghanistan but also the more pernicious and complex consequences of awakening the sleeping giant that is America ... Waldman plays out Newton’s third law of motion on the human scale.
Amy Waldman's follow-up to The Submission is a brilliant novel and one of the most incisive books written about America's endless war in Afghanistan ... Because the story takes place in 2008, readers benefit from hindsight in a way that Parveen cannot. Some, for example, might note the similarities between Gideon Crane's story and that of Greg Mortenson, the controversial philanthropist and author of Three Cups of Tea ... Waldman not only demonstrates Parveen's immense privilege in comparison to the villagers, but fashions a critique of the way narratives can obscure and shape reality ... Parveen is a study in divided loyalties.
... thoughtfully cautionary ... Waldman brings inborn knowledge to her storytelling and she writes about the clash of cultures and ideals here with clean-lined, eye-level empathy. Though Parveen stays credulous far longer than she should, Door still manages to make the political feel personal in a way that only the finest reporting — or the best kind of fiction — can.
Waldman is an ingenious and probing situational novelist ... In this deeply well-informed, utterly engrossing, mischievously disarming, and stealthily suspenseful tale of slow and painful realizations, Waldman hits the mark over and over again as Parveen not only plunges into the divide between her privileged life and the severe limitations Waheed’s two wives and the other village women contend with, but is also forced to recognize the tragic ironies of Crane’s influence, especially on the American military. Every aspect of this complex and caustic tale of hype and harm is saturated with insight and ruefulness as Parveen wises up and Waldman considers womanhood and choice, literacy and translation, hubris and lies, unintended consequences, and the devastating chaos of war.
Waldman delivers a breathtaking and achingly nuanced examination of the grays in a landscape where black and white answers have long been the only currency ... A bone-chilling takedown of America’s misguided use of soft power.