All We Leave Behind by Carol Off

Recently CBC’s As It Happens radio host Carol Off was one of two featured speakers at the Authors on Stage event presented by Theatre Orangeville on September 22. Carol Off, well-known Canadian journalist and author of four books spoke about her newest title All We Leave Behind.

This must-read book chronicles everything you’ll ever need to know about the Afghanistan situation. It takes readers from the Soviet invasion in 1978 through to the violent years as vicious tribal warlords battled for supremacy. It follows the takeover of the oppressive Taliban regime and even includes Canada’s more recent participation – yet it’s also a very profound, and riveting personal story that will simply astound readers.

In 2002 Carol Off and a CBC TV crew used the testimony of one rather out-spoken Afghan father of five, Asad Aryubwal. He appeared in the CBC documentary recounting many of the abusive, even criminal acts carried out by the tribal warlords in power after the Soviet attack, in particular General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Asad noted how some of these ruthless warlords worked alongside both American and NATO troops. Asad, sick of the endless violence, had hoped that by giving the documentary his voice, his truth – perhaps it would help change his country, and make things better for all.

After Asad publicly exposed the atrocities – things didn’t get better for Afghanistan, and especially not for Asad and his family. Death threats followed, forcing Asad, his wife, Mobina, and their five children to flee their home, and eventually their country.

That’s one part of this personal story. The other part examines the reporter’s role in the fate of their sources. What happens, and who is responsible when you produce and air a documentary that now gravely endangers a man, and his entire family? Such was the dilemma for Carol Off.

Does she cross a professional line when she befriends this Afghan family? Is it ethical for her to support them financially and emotionally in their arduous journey to seek refuge in Canada? Or was she just doing the ‘right’ thing?

And then there’s Afghanistan, rife with troubles. Imagine the notorious General Dostum, a leader with allegations as long as your arm for his part in human rights abuses and violence. His forces were accused of murdering hundreds (possibly thousands) of Taliban POWs in 2001. Currently, he’s Afghanistan’s Vice President.

All We Leave Behind is a finalist for both the Governor General’s Literary Awards for Non-fiction, and the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. Winners announced on November 1 and 14th. Winner or not, Carol Off’s gripping account of a family who loses everything yet stands by the truth, and a journalist who refuses to ‘leave her people behind’ is a true champion.