Timely biography conscientiously detailing the brief but courageous life of the young woman who founded the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).
Chavis (Altars in the Street, 1997) read up on Afghanistan’s turbulent history, talked to people who knew Meena, and visited Afghanistan after the Taliban fell in order to fashion this account. Born in Kabul in 1957, Meena contracted typhoid at 12 and nearly died; for the rest of her life she was subject to seizures and weakness in her limbs. Her illness made the already sensitive girl more serious, particularly aware of the plight of women. Though Meena’s mother was illiterate, she and her architect husband insisted that their daughter be educated. At an elite school founded by the French, Meena was a good student who enjoyed her classes and outstanding teachers, one of whom would later join her cause. Chavis deftly details the politically volatile background—the coup that ended the monarchy, the authoritarian republic, the brutal Russian occupation, and their equally harsh Taliban successors—as she chronicles Meena’s decision while at college in 1977 to found RAWA. Determined to help Afghan women, most of whom were illiterate and without any legal rights, Meena and her supporters wanted RAWA to work for both democracy and social justice, objectives that became increasingly difficult and dangerous to achieve as the political situation worsened. Meena married a doctor, who was also politically active, and bore a daughter and later twins, but they were often forced by the political situation to live apart; in 1986 he was tortured and killed by fundamentalists. Meena eventually fled to Pakistan, where she continued RAWA’s work in the refugee camps, making the organization internationally famous. Threatened by her popularity, her opponents had her abducted and killed in 1987.
A vivid celebration of a contemporary heroine.