DUBLIN -- The remarkable, tortured story of Afghanistan, emerging from the pages of Atta Arghandiwal's memoir, "Lost Decency," sweeps like a sandstorm across the history of a man, a people and a country in peril.
Describing the journey he has taken from his boyhood in a once-beautiful and now war-ravaged nation to the upcoming Tuesday release of his new book, the 59-year-old author and Dublin resident speaks with blinding honesty of swirling memories and ambition.
"'Angels of Ashes' was one of the most inspiring books," he begins, "and to touch the roots of a culture was always in my mind."
He recalls Afghanistan as a once peaceful land. In the 1960s and '70s people lived in harmony, and different ethnic groups -- sometimes as many as 20 in proximity -- worked together toward prosperity.
"The real problems started as a result of an internal coup d'état in 1978," he recalls. "Unrest started and the communist regime started to kill people. When that collapsed and Russia invaded, the extreme bombardments and mass killings began. The taking over of a peaceful country by an invader meant my family had to flee."
Escaping to Germany, then to the United States, Arghandiwal ended up on Market Street in San Francisco.
"My high school friends from Afghanistan told me to come to the Bay Area. I needed work, saw an ad and went in to American Savings and Loan Association and told them I would be good at the job, even though I had
From a brash 27-year old eager to "make it in America," Arghandiwal became a senior vice president at what is now Chase Bank. Also, he became a husband of 25 years ("It was what we call a 'traditional marriage,' but, yes, that means arranged -- and my wife didn't like it!" he exclaims) and the father of Edreece, age 23, and 16-year old Hailai.
Three years ago, he sat down and began to write -- three to four hours per day, with interruptions to coach soccer teams and trips to Afghanistan to refresh his memory.
"I wrote for the truth to come out; for the innocence of ordinary people. I recalled everything and validated (the stories) by traveling to see what is happening," he says.
What he saw was horrific, but what it sparked in him was conviction.
"The number-one problem is the occupation by foreign forces," he says. "The strategic location, in the heart of Asia and at a crossroads of empires, has made Afghanistan an important asset."
Failed policies, lack of leadership and misunderstandings with superpowers, he suggests, have added to the difficulties. He says after Sept. 11, 2001, Afghan people were crushed and failed to participate in the rebuilding of their nation.
"Involvements of warlords and minority groups has been supported by outsiders. They have committed numerous crimes. They are the only people in power, even today," he said.
He believes average Afghan citizens, lacking education and raised amid war and poverty, have little belief in their ability to engage or take charge.
"The majority are extremely polite, rational, nonviolent," Arghandiwal says. "But they have had a bad taste. They see the Americans as no different than the Russian: they see occupiers."
Instead of profiling differences, Arghandiwal writes to reveal the alliances and increase understanding. To maintain control of his stories and because he enjoys the process, he has self-published and is establishing a platform with PublishNext as his book's distributor.
"I'm so happy I did this in the form of a memoir, because all people know of Afghanistan is bombing, drugs, abuse of women's rights. I want to establish what the country really is. Honestly, I think Afghan people, similar to Americans, love freedom. They want to be creative, to be free to dream."
Calling it a scary thought, Arghandiwal says "Lost Decency" is the beginning of a dialogue and ultimately, a challenge for the Afghan people to gain control of their country, end the corruption and participate in rebuilding a once peaceful nation.
WHAT: Book signing party
WHEN: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Pleasanton Marriott, California Ballroom, 11950 Dublin Canyon Road, Pleasanton