A Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times journalist’s account of how two young Afghanis from warring ethnic clans risked disgrace and death to wed each other.
When Zakia, a Tajik and Sunni Muslim, met Ali, a Hazara and Shia Muslim, both were children growing up in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan. Though they came from different cultural and religious backgrounds, the pair and their families intermingled freely. But their lives and destinies changed drastically when the two fell in love as teenagers. With keen and nuanced insight, Nordland details the tortuous road that Zakia and Ali traveled in the years that followed. The pair carried on a secret courtship and decided to marry in defiance of Islamic law. At first, they attempted to work within the constraints of cultural traditions that dictated the father choose his daughter’s husband. However, the lovers realized that running away would be the only way they could be together. As their relationship intensified, they—and especially Zakia—endured beatings and other forms of humiliation at the hands of their families. Their case went to courts in Bamiyan and then Kabul, where it garnered both national and international media attention. By that point, Zakia and Ali had managed to elope and go into hiding. Outraged by her actions, Zakia’s father and brothers swore to hunt down the missing girl and kill her to restore family honor. Nordland became the pair’s chronicler in the United States and, later, their unofficial protector when, straining the limits of his professional involvement with them, he began to help the pair financially. Meticulously reported and written, Nordland’s book is an exceptionally well-delineated glimpse into the marriage practices of a closed patriarchal society and the suffering it has caused women. The author thoughtfully considers the extent to which the West, acting from the outside, can effect social reform in Muslim fundamentalist cultures.
A provocative, well-told story of love at all costs and an incisive examination of the continued violation of women’s rights in Afghanistan.