Great expectations

Article first published in The Guardian on 8 January 2005. Four new biographies suggest that the more we write about Alexander the Great, the less we understand him. Alexander the Great: The Death of a God by Paul Doherty 256pp, Constable, £17.99 Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past by Paul Cartledge 384pp, […]


The Looting of Turquoise Mountain

First published in The New York Times In a deserted maze of narrow gorges in the central mountains of Afghanistan, I turned a corner and saw a tower. It rose 200 feet, a slim column of intricately carved terra cotta set with a line of turquoise tiles. There was nothing else. The mountain walls formed […]



First published in the London Review of Books on 11 July 2002. When Ali brought out his Koran I thought of Tony Blair. It was February 2002. The Taliban had retreated, having burned Ali’s village to the ground. Four feet of snow had closed the passes into Bamiyan and all the roads were laid with […]


First published in Granta on 28 June 2002. ‘Dervish are an abomination,’ said Navaid. ‘What do you mean by a Dervish?’ I asked. ‘Dervish? Don’t you know? It’s a very old concept. Fakir? Pir-Baba? Sufi? Silsilah Malang—that beggar doing magic tricks…?’ Navaid was staring at a man who was sitting cross-legged in the street with […]


Iranian Girls

First published in Prospect Magazine, 1 November, 2001. They are not free because their minds are not free,” said the headmistress, introducing me to my first class. “You are not here only to teach them English, you are here to open their minds.” Ten women were seated around a table in the over-heated room. All […]


My time in Indonesia

First published in the London Review of Books, July 2000. Caleb held a bundle of arrows in his left hand and a bow and single arrow in his right. His mother was holding her torn ears between her thumbs and forefingers. Her chin was on her bare chest. Her legs were coated with grey mud. […]