Under the protection of foreign forces, a special place has flourished in Afghanistan. The Marefat School is an award-winning institution in the western slums of Kabul, built by one of the country’s most vulnerable minorities, the Hazara. Marefat educates both girls and boys; it teaches students to embrace the arts, criticize their leaders, interrogate their religion, and be active citizens in a rapidly changing country. But they are dependent on foreign forces for security. When the United States begins to withdraw from Afghanistan, they are left behind, unprotected.
Acclaimed journalist Jeffrey E. Stern explores the stakes of war through the eyes of those touched by Marefat: the school’s daring founder and leader, Aziz Royesh; a mother of five who finds freedom in literacy; a clever mechanic; a self-taught astronomer; the school’s security director; and several intrepid students who carry Marefat’s mission to the streets.
We see how Marefat has embraced the United States and blossomed under its presence—and how much it stands to lose as that protection disappears.
The Last Thousand tells the story of what we leave behind when our foreign wars end. It shows us up close the promise, as well as the peril, of our military adventures abroad. Stern presents a nuanced and fascinating portrait of the complex history of Afghanistan, its American occupation, and the ways in which once community rallies together in compelling, heartbreaking, and inspiring detail.
"Moral tension animates and complicates Mr. Stern’s beautiful, meticulously reported debut . . . Mr. Stern has a gift for exposition, explaining the confusing geopolitics of the region with a blessed—and welcome—lucidity. He knows exactly when to break the fourth wall, strategically entering the narrative to express his own anxieties about the fate of the school, the girls, the country. And he writes with real compassion and texture."—The New York Times
"Stern's style is lovely, even lyrical at times as he gives equal care and attention to every person he introduces, telling us about their concerns and histories, the things that make them fearful and those that fill their dreams."—Woman Around Town
"In gritty, original, and occasionally lyrical fashion, Stern portrays the transformations that Marefat inspires and the tests its students endure in an Afghanistan forever changed by the United States’ long military commitment . . . The Last Thousand ably renders the complex history and politics that drive so many to the school’s gates, despite the risks and sacrifices that come with enrollment."—Foreign Policy
"Jeffrey Stern chronicles the changes effected in a single community by America's intervention in Afghanistan and its withdrawal. A sensitive, in-depth look at the effects of war on ordinary people, the book demonstrates the power of education."—The Foreign Service Journal
“An extremely well-written and sensitive history of a small group of people, the author included, trying to affect discrete and measurable educational progress amid incredible obstacles.”—Dave Eggers, New York Times bestselling author of What is the What and Zeitoun, and co-founder of the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation
“A collection of gossamer threads that slowly weave into a perfect tapestry . . . a real and engrossing journey inside the hopes and aspirations of the Afghan people.”—Robert Young Pelton, author of Licensed to Kill
“A celebration of the power of education in Afghanistan. This is an important book for anyone trying to understand the immense challenges Afghans are facing in Afghanistan and their determination to overcome them.”—Qais Akbar Omar, author of A Fort of Nine Towers
"A compelling narrative. Stern carefully and gingerly sifts through the changes wrought not only by the American presence, but, critically, by their withdrawal."—Kirkus Reviews
"Highly recommended to readers trying to understand the impact of American military power on a poor, religious society that has to build institutions and an economy after the Americans depart. After spending many years in Afghanistan, Stern knows the territory well, and conveys its dilemmas through his humane portraits of the people of the Marefat School."—Library Journal
"[The Last Thousand] makes intricate issues accessible . . . Stern's prose can be quiet lyrical and poetic, and he goes to great lengths to explore the nuances of religion, education, women's rights, and foreign diplomacy in present-day Afghanistan. This book is a good primer for anyone interested in modern Middle Eastern politics."—Publishers Weekl