A Bed of Red Flowers

In Search of My Afghanistan

Publisher: Vintage Canada
As a young girl growing up in 1970s Afghanistan, Nelofer Pazira seems destined for a bright future. The daughter of liberal-minded professionals, she enjoys a safe, loving and privileged life. Some of her early memories include convivial family picnics and New Years’ celebrations overlooking the thousands of red flowers that carpet the hills of Mazar. But Nelofer’s world is shattered when she is just five and her father is imprisoned for refusing to support the communist party. This episode plants a “seed of anger” in her, which is given plenty of opportunity to grow as the years unfold.

In 1979, the Soviets invade Afghanistan beginning a ten-year occupation. The country becomes an armed camp with Russians fighting U.S.-backed mujahidin fighters while trying to impose military rule. For Nelofer, daily life includes an endless succession of tanks, rockets screaming overhead and explosions in the street. During this time, she and her best friend, Dyana, seek refuge in their love of poetry. At eleven, the two girls throw stones at Soviet tanks and plot other acts of rebellion at the local school. As Nelofer gets older, she joins the resistance movement, distributes contraband books, studies guerilla warfare and hides a gun in her parent’s mint garden.

When Nelofer’s younger brother comes home from school in military garb, the family finally decides to flee Afghanistan. What follows is a perilous, clandestine journey across rugged mountains into Pakistan. But the life of a refugee is not what Nelofer expects. Though she once idealized the mujahidin as freedom fighters, she is shocked, as a woman, to find herself stripped of her personal freedom in their midst.

In 1990, Nelofer and her family are offered refugee status in Canada. Here she corresponds with her friend Dyana, whose letters reveal the increasing oppression of life under the Taliban. Fearing that her friend will kill herself, Pazira returns to Afghanistan to rescue her. This search becomes the basis for the acclaimed film Kandahar. Her journey to discover Dyana’s tragedy leads her finally to Russia, the land of her enemy, where she confronts the legacy of the Soviet invasion of her homeland first-hand.

A Bed of Red Flowers is a gripping, heart-rending story about a country caught in a struggle of the superpowers – and of the real people behind the politics. Universally acclaimed for its astute insights and extraordinary humanity, Pazira’s memoir won the Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize for 2005.The Winnipeg Free Press writes: “Powerfully written, A Bed of Red Flowers is a rare account of a misunderstood country and its intrepid people, trying to live ordinary lives under extraordinary circumstances.” The Gazette (Montreal) describes the book as “an outpouring of passionate non-fiction that captivates like the tales of Sheherazade.… It’s a remarkable journey. An inspiring read.”



On one late afternoon in September 1978, our family driver took me to the detention centre in Baghlan, where my father was imprisoned. My purple velvety trousers were brushing the dust from the unpaved road as we walked to the compound. I was holding the driver’s hand, forcing him to go faster...
Read More


1. Nelofer Pazira’s A Bed of Red Flowers is subtitled In Search of My Afghanistan. Does she find it?

2. Since September 11, media coverage of Afghanistan has focused predominantly on the Taliban. How did your experience of reading A Bed of Red Flowers compare with following...

Read More


“This is a remarkable book: an utterly engrossing read that provides a window into a culture that has long existed on the periphery of the world’s vision…Pazira’s account exudes an unself-conscious frankness and intelligence that will give readers a perspective on the last 30 years of Afghan politics and society that simply cannot be gleaned through media accounts.”
Quill and Quire

"A Bed of Red Flowers is more than the remarkable story of Nelofer Pazira’s difficult life in war-torn Afghanistan, her family’s sacrifices and escape, and her eventual triumph as a writer, teacher, journalist and actress. Written movingly, honestly and lyrically, it is the story of Afghanistan itself, a haunting diary of the tragedies that have plagued Pazira’s nation in the last thirty years."
—Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner

"Through occupation and civil war, from being a refugee to a movie star — Nelofer Pazira’s journey is a story told with passion, humanity and eloquence. Her unforgettable story provides a searing reminder of Afghanistan’s long years of war and how a country was held hostage long before September 11. A Bed of Red Flowers is a deeply moving tribute that will grip you from beginning to end."
—Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia

A Bed of Red Flowers is a straightforward, open account of a childhood stained by war and stupidity. It is also a chronicle of the choices one woman made to live her life with courage and dignity, and for the benefit of others.”
The Globe and Mail

“Powerfully and thoughtfully written, A Bed of Red Flowers is a rare account of a misunderstood country and its intrepid people, trying to live ordinary lives under extraordinary circumstances.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“It’s a remarkable journey. An inspiring read.”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“Equal parts lament for a long-gone era and memoir of a remarkable life, Nelofer Pazira’s A Bed of Red Flowers does exactly what a contemporary book about Afghanistan should do. It reminds us that behind that nation’s endlessly chronicled conflict and strife are real, three-dimensional people caught in the crossfire of political agendas and battles for supremacy.”
Toronto Star

“The juxtaposition of Pazira’s life in Canada with that of Dyana, desolate and suicidal in Kabul, leavens the book and gives it both seriousness and page-turner appeal.”
The London Free Press

“[A Bed of Red Flowers] is both a love letter to a country that no longer exists, and an optimistic–tempered with just the right amount of clear-eyed realism–look into a possible future.”
–Edmonton Journal

“Pazira presents the moving and stunningly written memoir of her childhood curtailed by the arrival of Soviet rule in Afghanistan and her family’s sacrifices and eventual escape to Canada.”
–Concordia University Magazine

A Bed of Red Flowers is not merely a remarkable memoir of one family’s struggle; it’s also a succinct account of Afghanistan’s political history. Within these 400 suspenseful pages lies a concise retelling of the complexities and futility of war in a country constantly used as a battleground for other people’s ideologies. Pazira shows the reader the frustration of a diverse culture in which people have always had to choose between lack of safety and lack of sovereignty. This book is a victory, bringing us a truth banned or distorted by most with the power to speak about it. An enriching and heartrending read.”
NOW (Toronto)

“Pazira is a gifted and cinematic story-teller. Every page is a scene, moving the story through wartime survival and sacrifice to a relentless search for answers.”
The Observer

From the Hardcover edition.