Book Review: The Night Letters by Denise Leith

Sydney author Denise Leith is a former lecturer in international relations whose work has involved extensive travel and the mentoring of Afghan women in the craft of writing. She brings these experiences to this rich and engaging novel set in modern Kabul.

Australian doctor Sofia Raso has found a community among the characters of Shaahir Square, each of whom are cleverly drawn by the author to bring personal and political aspects of life in Afghanistan alive for readers. From grumpy mother-figure Behneez to the headstrong surgery receptionist Iman, through their interactions with Sofia, Leith is able to weave some important lessons about Afghan history and culture.

Image of the cover of The Night Letters where a canary sits in a pomegranate tree on the backdrop of an ornate window looking out onto the night sky.

Sofia’s choice to remain long-term in Afghanistan is thrown into jeopardy when she gets involved in a crime with high-profile connections. As she reconnects with an old flame and reaffirms what she loves about her chosen home, her life and her friends’ lives fall into danger, described by Leith as an ever-present backdrop to modern Kabul.

The Night Letters is a really well-executed ensemble cast novel (and I love ensemble cast novels, movies and so on) displaying some of the culture of Afghanistan and the complex lives of the country’s women to the armchair wanderer. The interactions between Sofia and her neighbours are full of the humour that many will recognise as a common ground people move on across language barriers.

I thoroughly enjoyed the characterisation, the love story, and the steadily moving plot of the mysterious ‘Night Letters’ in this book.