Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs

Non-Fiction - Cultural
178 Pages
Reviewed on 05/20/2014
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Author Biography

Captain Edward Zellem is the award-winning author of two bilingual books of Afghan Proverbs, now published in over a dozen languages. He is a U.S. Navy officer and trained Dari speaker who spent every day for a year and a half on native Afghan teams in Afghanistan. This included a year on President Hamid Karzai's staff inside the Presidential Palace.

While in Afghanistan, Captain Zellem became fascinated with the way Afghans use Proverbs in their daily conversations. He began collecting and translating them, and used them every day with Afghans in his professional and personal life.

After students at a local Kabul high school offered to create illustrations, he decided to publish his collection and share it with the world.

Over 40,000 copies are being used today in more than 200 Afghan schools helping children learn to read English and Dari. The books also are being used in Sweden and Greece to integrate Afghan refugees and help teach them new languages.

The Afghan Proverbs Collection has received praise from luminaries such as General David H. Petraeus, Kabul University's Nancy Dupree, Afghan National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the Princess Salimah Aga Khan, and many other well-known personalities.

The Afghan Proverbs books are available in over 70 countries through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and over 100 other major book retailers. More information at

    Book Review

Reviewed by Bruce Cook for Readers' Favorite

A delightful book of proverbs, Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs by Captain Edward Zellem is written in a language and culture little known to English language readers outside of Afghanistan. (It also includes helpful comments on pronunciation and the Dari language) Unlike the typical news story portrayals of Muslim culture, Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs honors Islam with the utmost respect. The author has selected 151 proverbs that are in common daily use in all aspects of Afghan society. Thus, while the beauty of these expressions seems rare, they are well known and loved in their country of origin.

The book was written and translated by a US Navy Captain, Edward Zellem, with the full cooperation of students from Marefat High School in Kabul. This is a remarkable achievement in US recognition of the importance of culture in an area where fighting goes on. Here, instead of “conquering” a village, the object is to understand the village’s people and culture. The result is extraordinary, for it answers the comment so often voiced in a place of combat – “If the army had just understood!”

I commend Captain Zellem for honoring and selecting these glorious proverbs.

As an example – just one of the 151 – consider this one from Page 9.

The literal translation: Mother shakes the cradle with one hand, and shakes the world with the other hand.

The meaning (quoted separately for each literal translation): Mothers play a very important role in the world, and how they raise their children affects everything.

This book represents a deliberate attempt to document the gracefulness of Islamic culture for the benefit of Western readers. I heartily recommend this book.