"Born to an American mother and a late Afghan war hero-turned-magnate, Daniel Sajadi has spent his life navigating a complex identity. After years in Los Angeles, he is returning home to Kabul for the first time as the head of a US foreign aid agency dedicated to staunching the growth of the poppy fields in Fever Valley that feed the world's opiate epidemic. But on the drive back to Kabul from an anniversary trip with his wife, Rebecca, Daniel hits and kills a young Kochi girl named Telaya. Nomad tribes are ignored in the eyes of the law, and Daniel is let off with a nominal fine due to a mysterious witness at the scene-a man named Taj Maleki, who turns out to be a prominent opium khan. Wracked with guilt and visions of Telaya, Daniel begins to unravel, running from his rapidly crumbling marriage and threats of blackmail and murder from the man who would do anything to save his poppy fields from eradication. In a powerful literary thriller debut that captures the tumultuous, sometimes violent trajectory of revolution, Jasmine Aimaq draws the often invisible lines between criminal empires and shifting political regimes"--
The novel brings domestic scenes to life ... like the house filled with the 'aroma of saffron, cardamom, and rosewater mixed with hair spray and the women’s clashing perfumes.' ... Though rooted in the historical events that led to the Soviet-backed Saur Revolution in Afghanistan, The Opium Prince reads like a thriller. Readers are thoroughly engaged in Daniel’s disorientation; he’s unsure whether specific personnel truly represent the interests with which they outwardly align, unsure of individuals’ true power and privilege. His uncertainty mirrors readers’ confusion: 'So it’s either Russian puppets or a future of backward superstition? Are you sure you know what you’re doing?' ... Aimaq’s professional and life experiences recommend her to the task of presenting a nuanced understanding of competing and undermining influences at work in Afghanistan. More fiction-writing experience would have allowed her to explore more than one alternate perspective, to secure readers with time-and-place headers to counterbalance the narrator’s insecurity, and to stylistically link the prologue and epilogue so both feel equally organic to the narrative. Nonetheless, this debut novel is compelling and Aimaq’s observations astute. The Opium Prince is ambitious, complex and multifaceted – what every novel about a nation should aspire to be.
What begins as a thriller evolves into a detailed history of the region’s traumas and a less-successful emotional and personal odyssey. As the country descends into war, Daniel’s safety becomes a major concern. Peppered throughout the tale are a series of short, haunting fables, presented as children’s stories but disclosing the brutal reality of Afghan life. An ambitious debut defying easy categorization.
Aimaq, an adviser on international arms control and foreign affairs, draws heavily on her childhood experiences in Afghanistan to provide glimpses into the complicated political and cultural dynamics of a country that has seen nearly half a century of constant war. Though she has altered some historical details to fit the narrative, her observations provide astonishing context to contemporary global issues such as Islamic extremism and the international heroin trade. Fans of Lauren Wilkinson’s Cold War thriller American Spy won’t want to miss this one.