Former New York Times reporter Amy Waldman left an indelible imprint on readers with her debut, The Submission, which examined the fallout of 9/11 at Ground Zero. Eight years later, Waldman returns with an even more ambitious novel, A Door in the Earth, which proves to be as politically provocative and challenging as its predecessor.
Drawing on her years based in Afghanistan, Waldman takes readers deep into the heart of the country, transporting us to a remote and largely unremarkable village, ringed by mountains far from the ongoing military conflicts that make headlines overseas. Guiding us is Parveen Shamsa, an earnest medical anthropologist who has recently graduated from Berkley. Inspired by a fictional bestselling memoir by Dr. Gideon Crane, which shed light on the abysmal state of women’s health in Afghanistan, Parveen has left the comforts of home in California to volunteer at the women’s clinic established by Dr. Crane and to reconnect with her own Afghan heritage.
Unfortunately, the reality of life in the village as well as increasing doubts about the veracity of Crane’s book slowly disabuse Parveen of her youthful naivety, pulling back the veil of her innocence and privilege. When American troops turn their attention to the village, also owing to Crane’s memoir, and begin to pave a road to improve access, this seemingly benign action triggers devastating results for both Parveen and the villagers.
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 and receiving its attentions—whether benevolent or not. Waldman plays out Newton’s third law of motion on the human scale, demonstrating that for every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction. As Parveen learns a little too late, “there is no such thing as an innocuous interaction: there were always repercussions, always collateral damage, for others.”