Author: Saima Wahab
Genre: Non-Fiction (Memoir / Afghanistan / War / Immigration / 1970s / 1980s / War in Afghanistan / U.S. Military)
Publisher/Publication Date: Crown (4/24/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Liked to love.
Did I finish?: I did -- I couldn't put it down!
One-sentence summary: Memoir of an Afghani-American translator who returns to Afghanistan to work with US forces fighting terrorism there.
Reading Challenges: Dewey Decimal, Immigrant Stories
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's very striking!
I'm reminded of...: Diana Abu-Jaber
First line: I should have died when I was five.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow, even if you're not a memoir fan - this is an intro to the conflict in Afghanistan over the last decade and the story of a fascinating woman living through intense times.
Why did I get this book?: I'm fascinated by women in wartime and this memoir was too intriguing to resist!
Review: From the first sentence -- I should have died when I was five. -- Wahab's memoir embodies the subtitle: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate. This was an exceptionally readable narrative, featuring various -- intense -- themes and threads: escaping violence in Afghanistan as a child, growing up in a conservative Pashtun family in the U.S., working as a contractor in Afghanistan, nurturing romantic relationships with non-Muslim American men, and a passionate desire to honor her Afghani roots and her American home.
This is an immigrant story, a war memoir, a narrative of a bi-national woman educated in the US and devoted to the war-torn country of her birth. Despite the various themes in this book, the story was never muddled or confusing, and I was immediately taken with Wahab and her story. I liked her, which is huge for me when it comes to memoirs; that's what makes it or breaks it. Wahab's writing style is clear and straight-forward, and I raced through this 340-page memoir without effort.
I could feel the pressure for me to say "I love you, too," something that Pashtuns don't do. Soldiers always ask me, "How do I say 'I love you' in Pashtu?" and I have to explain that in a culture where parents don't even develop bonds with their kids until they are much older and there is no danger of losing them to the many illnesses that claim thousands of infants' lives, we don't have any three Pashtu words to express that sentiment. There are ways you show it, and that is how we like to express our love. We are loyal, and through taking care of our loved ones, we tell them how much we love them.(p162)
Wahab's immigrant story is complicated: she's a Muslim, a Pashtun, and an Afghani; she's from a family with complicated beliefs that differ from hers. That alone would have made this a memorable book, but Wahab's decision to become a translator for US forces in Afghanistan added an additional dimension that was fascinating. I've got very complicated feelings about the American presence in Afghanistan, but I was captivated by Wahab's account of her time there. Regardless of my political leanings, I appreciated and enjoyed the respect and love she has for Afghanistan and the US troops stationed there. Wahab talks openly about her PTSD and her struggle to acknowledge and live with it; she shares her romantic relationships as well, and the challenges faced when trying to honor her own desires with that of her family's.
I could go on and on -- I really didn't expect this memoir to be so rich and so readable. Memoir fans will absolutely want to get this one; anyone interested in learning more about the current conflict in Afghanistan will find this a great introduction from someone who loves the country. Cross-cultural romance, armchair travel, and crazy family reminiscence: if you like it, you'll find it here. (I would even venture this might be a good gift to bridge-the-blue-red-divide, as Wahab is pro-America and Muslim!)
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