Review: The Ferryman by Azam Ahmed


‘He stares out at the run of the land searching for signs of smoke to tell us where the airstrike hit and therefore the direction we will be heading.  Distance is hard to gauge here.’

 – Azam Ahmed, The Ferryman

In the short story, The Ferrymen, (2016) Azam Ahmed introduces the reader to Malik an Afghani undertaker, during the US military occupation of Afghanistan. We travel with Malik through rugged terrain to retrieve the bodies dead US soldiers from the Taliban for burial, an arrangement he concedes to out of moral duty, rather than political allegiance. The environment simultaneously represents inherent security risks, interweaved within the intimacy of home, with the menace of conflict and its ramifications.  Accentuating the imperceptible fragmentations within Afghan society, where tensions are exacerbated by military occupation, Malik travels a precarious trajectory, only to his own moral standards does he acquiesce, thus risking an escalation of reprisal.

‘How we see a thing – even with our eyes – is very much dependent

on where we stand in relationship to it.’ 

– Wa Thiong’o Ngûgî, Decolonizing the Mind

In comparison we examine Arcadia (1973) by Ian Hamilton Finlay, aptly representing the aligned experience of Malik.  The terrain within which he is intimate, becomes a militarised space, delineating an alliance between Afghani citizens and the US army and the social ramifications consolidated with domestic instability, ‘We are all Taliban,’ Malik ironically states, the US commander agrees, laughing although the situation is tense. The artwork actuates a reflection of the dichotomy of a contemporary society in which political discourse presents military action as benevolent, although the lived experience is drastically opposed to the official narrative. In addition, representations of an idyllic landscape contrasted with societal suffering and collateral ramifications of aggressive military assault.


Arcadia [collaboration with George Oliver] 1973 Ian Hamilton Finlay 1925-2006 Purchased 1974

In this instance, the artwork effectively represents the contemporary effort to beautify war and highlights persistent attempts to aesthetically redress instruments of violence with an aim to remove the inherent consequential bloodshed and aggression from the collective notions of war and military investments.

When considering current global unrest, militarised imperial aggression and the devastating consequences of such military action, the importance of art and literature in highlighting these issues is ever more vital. Literature provided a vehicle of expression for the silenced voice, Art furnished the mind with a emotive visual experience. Thus, contributing to a discourse which humanises the Other remains a crucial responsibility in the humanities. Alternatively a contemporary discussion which colludes with an imperialist narrative, determined in reducing the value of those who differ, or are in humanitarian or economic need, this is when art and literature provide visual and literary examples of the complex consequences of military endeavours and further disrupt embedded preconceptions regarding the attempted visual pacification of instruments of war.


Ahmed, A. (2017). The Ferryman. Granta. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Dec. 2017].

Ardorno, T. (1991). The Culture Industry. New York: Routledge. p.30

Guston, P. (1971). Cornered. [oil on paper] Liverpool: Tate modern.

Ngûgî,Wa Thiong’o. (1986) Decolonizing the Mind. London: James Currey

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