Wednesday, May 23, 2012
In My Father's Country...Review by the Doctor
In Afghanistan, there is a Pashtun saying known by every woman and by every girl: “A woman should leave her house only twice in her life: once as a bride to go to her husband’s house, and once to the cemetery to be buried.”
Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saima Wahab seemed destined to lead the life of any Pashtun female—a life of dependence, without education, a probable child bride—but today, more than three decades later, it is clear that this now American-Pashtun, “Human Terrain” specialist was destined for far greater things. In her new book, In My Father’s Country, Saima shares her remarkable journey: At age three, she watched while her father was arrested and taken from their home by the KGB. She would never see him again.
When she was fifteen, an uncle who lived in Portland, Oregon brought her to America. Having to learn an entire new language, she nonetheless graduated from high school in three years and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree. In 2004, she signed on with a defense contractor to work as an interpreter in Afghanistan, never realizing that she would blaze the trail for a new kind of diplomacy, earning the trust of both high-ranking U.S. army officials and Afghan warlords alike.
When she arrived in Afghanistan in the winter of 2004, Saima was the only college-educated female Pashto speaker in the entire country. As a Pashtun-born American citizen, Saima found herself in an extraordinary position—to be able to explain the people of her native land to those of her adopted one, and vice versa, in a quest to forge new and lasting bonds between two misunderstood cultures.
In My Father’s Country follows Saima from child refugee to nervous Pashto interpreter to intrepid “Human Terrain” specialist, venturing with her 25-man security detail into isolated Pashtun villages to engage hostile village elders in the first dialogue they’ve ever had with an American. It is also an examination of her life as an American-Pashtun woman; a woman working to create a balance between the two conflicting cultures that comprise her past and shape her future.
Born just before the Soviet invasion that would claim the life of her father, Saima Wahab was just another Pashtun daughter, whose life should have been one of minimal travel and lesser opportunities. Instead, she was evacuated from Afghanistan in a harrowing journey which eventually brought her to the Northwest coast of America. There, with minimal English, she forged her own independence and her own life against family and cultural pressures that would have seen her taken back to Afghanistan and a life with few choices. Instead, she began her own life, which eventually led to her being a civilian contractor working with the US military in her home country of Afghanistan. Amid the horrors of war, and fighting cultural prejudices which at times threatened her very life, she was at first an interpreter and eventually a "cultural liaison", trying to bring peace and understanding between her old world and her new.
I had just started a long-awaited novel when, for some reason, I picked up this book and just read the book jacket. I asked my wife if I could read it before she did, and so began the loss of a weekend. I was touched and moved by Saima’s story of the pain and difficulty of growing up in one culture, while living in another. I was inspired by the bravery she shows in choosing to serve her country in a way that very few people ever could. Her honesty in describing her feelings of frustration as she tried to find peace in her soul and peace in the world was heart wrenching. Above all, I was incredibly impressed by the courage that she showed, risking her life and her sanity in an attempt to understand the country that her father died for, and the rich cultural heritage that would have denied her the place she took in the world.
Thank you Saima, for a wonderful and moving book that widened my understanding, and enriched my soul. You have indeed fulfilled your father's promise, and I am sure made him proud.
Thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book. You can purchase your own copy here. You can see other reviews and tour stops here.
Tuesday, April 24th: Book Addict Katie
Wednesday, April 25th: Unabridged Chick
Monday, April 30th: Bibliosue
Tuesday, May 1st: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, May 2nd: My Book Retreat
Thursday, May 3rd: A Bookish Affair
Monday, May 7th: Book Dilettante
Tuesday, May 8th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Wednesday, May 9th: Book Club Classics!
Monday, May 14th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Tuesday, May 15th: Luxury Reading
Wednesday, May 16th: Lit and Life
Thursday, May 17th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Monday, May 21st: Chew & Digest Books
Tuesday, May 22nd: Twisting the Lens
Wednesday, May 23rd: 2 Kids and Tired Books
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