1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
Before I start, I would like to thank you for the interview and your review of The Lone Leopard.
I was born and brought up in Kabul, Afghanistan, and claimed asylum alongside my parents in the UK in 1999. I finished all my higher education in the UK. I am married and live with my wife and three children in a quiet town in England.
How did I get into writing? I love writing, especially about my country Afghanistan. Therefore, I did my PhD on Afghanistan and subsequently published some two dozen articles and a book (more below) on my native land.
The idea for writing The Lone Leopard, however, was actually conceived in 1992 when the ‘pro-Communist’ Najibullah regime collapsed and the mujahideen took over Kabul. Turning Shia against Sunni and vice versa, setting Afghanistan’s main ethnic groups of Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek against each other, and accusing each other of uniting with the remnants of pro-Communist members and thus not being Islamic enough, the 15 or so mujahideen groups fought each other in the streets of Kabul, killing tens of thousands of innocent Kabulis, displacing hundreds of thousands, and turning half of Kabul into mudbrick rubble with bombs, rockets and cannon fire.
Taking refuge in the basements of our blocks while the gunfire, shelling and fighting continued, I decided (if I made it alive) to write about what we ordinary Afghans went through. Unlike thousands of Kabulis, I was fortunate enough to live, and 18 years later, in 2010, I started writing about the experience: after 12 years of writing/rewriting (and extensive research, including consulting nearly a thousand sources), The Lone Leopard is the result.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
I’ve partly answered this question above. I’d also like to add that my only inspiration is my people and country. I wanted to tell the contemporary Afghan and Afghanistan story from an Afghan perspective. Ahmad, the protagonist of my novel, therefore, gives a first-hand account of what I (and most Afghans) have experienced over the past four decades in Afghanistan (and in exile). My previous book, America in Afghanistan, published in 2019 by IB Tauris/Bloomsbury, was praised by reviewers for its Afghan perspectives, and is found at, among other institutions, Oxford and Harvard.
3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
The reader will get to know a great deal about the principles of Afghan culture, particularly independence, courage, loyalty, justice, revenge, righteousness, pride, honour, chastity, hospitality, love, forgiveness, faith (Islam) and respect of elders (parents in particular), among others, and some of these themes, in addition to jealousy, prejudice, betrayal, guilt and atonement, the book explores.
The Lone Leopard is a historical war drama. Once the reader reads it, I hope they will see how things have been in Afghanistan; they will understand the history and politics of the past four decades in Afghanistan; and they will see the real Afghan and Afghanistan.
The Lone Leopard is a work of contemporary literary fiction, too, as it is solely based on human relations. The focus of the novel is primarily on the lives of Ahmad (15, a conservatively traditional Pashtun, dutiful child, gifted student, thoughtful but faint-hearted) and Frishta (16, progressive, Tajik, women’s rights activist, compassionate, outspoken and brave): will the faint-hearted Ahmad learn from Frishta to fight his cowardly side and stand up for himself and for what is right, even if his stance opposes traditions/his controlling mother; will the fearless Frishta journey from a middle-class girl to ‘the president of Afghanistan’; will Ahmad and Frishta with conflicting personalities/backgrounds fall in love; will the middle-class Wazir (15, Ahmad’s best friend/classmate: Pashtun, fearless, the school gangster, pro-mujahideen) ever fulfil his dreams of killing a Communist and joining jihad; and will the loveable Baktash (15, Ahmad’s best friend/classmate: Tajik/Hazara, timid but lovable, pro-Communism) live a normal life without getting bullied for being different. So, the reader will get drawn into a time (the 1980s-2010s) when historical events – several invasions of Afghanistan over the past four decades in particular – give rise to nationalistic and religious conflicts and impact the lives of the four characters and their families.
Moreover, The Lone Leopard is a mother-son relationship story, as familial aspects constitute a significant part of the narrative, especially (the importance of) parental respect, which you have highlighted (and liked) in your review.
Incidentally, in addition to the Western reader, when writing the novel, I had the future Afghan generations in mind, especially for them to see what mistakes their ancestors committed and how they should avoid repeating them. One of them is how discrimination, alienation and division can destroy a country; and how unity, inclusion and empowerment of people – regardless of their sex, tribe, ethnic origin, religion, etc. – can help build a better country and, by extension, a better world.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
The Lone Leopard can fit into several genres: literary fiction, women’s fiction, young adult fiction, coming-of-age, family drama, war drama, and romance. For me, however, it will always remain historical fiction drama, the story of contemporary Afghanistan. I chose the historical genre because I have a PhD in IR/history, have taught the history of Afghanistan and have lived through the historical periods The Lone Leopard covers. As a creative writing teacher may say, ‘write what you know’.
5) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
I am not very good at social media and only use Twitter. I also have a LinkedIn account, but I have not made much use of it.
6) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Read more, research a lot, and get a good command of creative writing techniques before starting your book. And keep it consistent: make sure you write/research/read every day, even if it is for half an hour. Oh, one more thing: start today; don’t wait for tomorrow.
7) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
My next book will focus on why the Doha Peace Agreement between the Taliban and America failed and the possible consequences of the failure for Afghanistan, the region and the international community.
About the Author
SHARIFULLAH DORANI was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan, and claimed asylum in the UK in 1999. He has undergraduate and master’s degrees in Law from The University of Northampton and UCL, respectively. He completed his PhD on the US War in Afghanistan at Durham University and authored the acclaimed America in Afghanistan. Sharifullah frequently returns to Afghanistan to carry out research. He is currently South Asia and the Middle Eastern Editor at The Centre for Strategic Research and Analysis (CESRAN International) and has written nearly two dozen articles on Afghanistan (and the broader region), international relations and law. He lives with his family in Bedford, England.