Angie Chuang takes on an assignment to “find the human face of the country we’re about to bomb” weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Her five-year journey into the lives of the Shirzai family transports her far beyond journalism. She travels to their homeland Afghanistan, and becomes intimately involved with the family’s story of loss and triumph over war. As she is drawn ever deeper into the Shirzais’s lives, Chuang confronts unknown territory closer to her own home. Her own immigrant family from Taiwan is falling apart. Mental illness, divorce, and deeply rooted cultural taboos have shattered her own family’s American Dream. Ultimately, she finds the two families are more similar than she had imagined.
The title, The Four Words for Home ($19.95), comes from the idea that in the Pashto language in Afghanistan, “home” is not a single word, but four. There are separate words to convey the concepts of “birthplace,” “native land,” “country,” and “house,” as is fitting to a people who have endured so much displacement, occupation, and upheaval. For all immigrants, the idea of “home” is both fluid and elusive, far more than a single place on the map. At its core, this story speaks to all those who have sought that ineffable idea of home, across oceans and generations, in their own, or in other, cultures and families.
Angie Chuang is a writer and educator based in Washington, D.C. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, The Asian American Literary Review, Vela, The Root, Washingtonian magazine, CALYX, and multiple editions of The Best Women’s Travel Writing and The Best Travel Writing. She is on the Journalism faculty of the American University School of Communication. In addition to writing and researching stories of immigrant Americans, Chuang is the daughter of Chinese American immigrants herself. She grew up in the Chinese American enclaves of the San Francisco Bay Area, and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. She received her B.A. and M.A. in English literature at Stanford University.