I’m picky about the non-fiction I read. Not much of it tempts me, I enjoy few of the ones that do, and I rave about even fewer than that.
This is worthy of a rave.
All We Leave Behind tells the harrowing, heart-stopping, gut-wrenching tale of one man and one family’s fight to live with integrity in an increasingly chaotic, corrupt world. It begins with Carol Off’s work as a foreign correspondent in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where she interviews a progressive and thoughtful man named Asad Aryubwal.
Aryubwal has lived through some of the most turbulent times in modern Afghanistan. He loves his country and, at first, the American efforts after 9/11 give him hope. But he soon sees a familiar pattern emerge, old mistakes being repeated, and he tries to warn the West by speaking with foreign journalists like Off. Specifically, he acts as the main subject of a documentary Off is making about Afghanistan.
Unfortunately this draws the attention of a very powerful, very dangerous warlord, putting the entire Aryubwal family in danger. When Off finds out, she plunges in to the murky world of the Canadian refugee system and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.
In the beginning, both the family and Off assume that – given all the evidence and documentation they have to support the Aryubwals’ claim of asylum – the family will have no problem getting to Canada. The reality is very different. It takes a few dozen people working together in three countries, countless roadblocks, miscommunications, and delays, a few close calls, and many, many years before the story finally ends.
As I read this over again, I realize it doesn’t sound terribly exciting. But Off, as a journalist, has a knack for putting things into context, and this context is just fascinating. She also does an excellent job of summarizing the political, social, and religious forces at play for and against the Aryubwals in a way that highlights the personal, human price being paid.
Woven through the whole book is the question of journalistic responsibility: as in, what responsibility does a journalist have to the subjects of her story once it’s finished? And does how does the answer to that question impact her ability to do her job?
There were times when this book made me proud to be Canadian, and times when it made me ashamed, but I was always engaged.
Highly recommended. Very highly.