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Could there be a more alarming role model for a writer than Scheherazade? You tell a story and, worst case, your head is cut off. Best case: the would-be decapitator is so enthralled that you are spared, and get to marry him. Storytelling is, The Thousand and One Nights suggests, a high-stakes seduction, a power game in which pleasure is intricately linked with pain and fear. This is one of the barbed jokes that seem to lurk beneath Jamil Jan Kochai’s debut novel 99 Nights in Logar (Viking, $25), a funny, lightly surreal evocation of life in rural Afghanistan which partly aims, in entertaining American readers, to rouse their sympathy for the real-life Afghans who have been suffering under US occupation for seventeen years now. Like the author, the protagonist, Marwand, is brought up in California, but the novel begins when, in 2005, just shy of his teens, he and his parents and brothers spend several months visiting their extended family in Logar province, near the eastern border with Pakistan.

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