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. It is in journeying far away from her own home and family that she is drawn back to discover her own roots—and to confront the hard truths and broken places that lie at the heart of so many stories of migration and intergenerational struggle.
The title, The Four Words for Home, 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.