While driving away from a dangerous city in an area of north Afghanistan ravaged by war, three men must journey by foot when their car is damaged in an accident. Donk is an American combat photographer. Hassan is a young Afghan translator. Graves is a British journalist suffering from a severe case of malaria and in desperate need of medication.

They arrive at a remote village ruled by a warlord, General Ismail Mohammed. Medication is unavailable there and transportation to a larger city is not possible for at least another day. The local doctor recommends an herbal remedy for the treatment of malaria, and General Mohammed attests to its effectiveness. The medicinal grass grows only in a nearby mountain valley. Two soldiers escort Donk and Hassan to the vale. They encounter a convoy of transport vehicles that have been incinerated by a bomb blast.

When the grass is finally in sight, Donk and Hassan race towards it even as the two soldiers shout at them. Too late! Donk steps on a bomblet and the device detonates. Badly injured (and maybe even mortally wounded), Donk and Hassan lie on their backs and gaze at the sky. They are surrounded by the thick grass they hoped might save the life of their companion, Graves.


The landscape of the story is desert and gunfire, misery and hopelessness. Chaos appears inescapable. Human conflict is viewed not only as inevitable but also enduring. America's clout in this region of the world is both welcomed and resented. At least two of the characters in the story, Donk and Graves, realize that the peculiarity of death is most apparent in war.

The depiction of a potentially fatal case of malaria is noteworthy. What compels Donk to hunt for the medicinal grass when he is fairly convinced that the folk remedy is likely useless? How do we validate information? The journalist Graves shrewdly deduces "information is only as reliable as the question that creates it" (13).


The story was previously published in Virginia Quarterly Review.

Primary Source

God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories



Place Published

New York



Page Count