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An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate

by Saima Wahab

Pub Date: April 24th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-88494-7
Publisher: Crown

An extraordinary journey by a Pashtun refugee in America who was able to return gracefully back to Kabul.

At age five, in 1979, Wahab began her life on the run after her father was taken from their Kabul home by KGB agents during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. At the mercy of male relatives, Wahab, her two siblings and mother were sent to live with Baba, the grandfather, first in Ghazni Province, then in Peshawar, Pakistan. Out of guilt, kindness or a promise to her father, Baba allowed Wahab to attend school, even though she was the only girl in her class and was already getting marriage proposals at age nine. At age 15, the three siblings were sent to Portland, Ore., to live with their professor uncle, who bestowed on them an American education but insisted on traditional sexist double standards at home, which eventually enraged the strong-willed teenager. After college, she finally moved out of the close-knit family when she’d had enough of being considered “dishonorable and dirty” for craving a life of her own. Being outspoken was a liability for a traditional Pashtun woman, and while she never lacked for American suitors, it invited loneliness. As a rare speaker of both English and Pashto, she was hired by the U.S. military in 2004 to help coordinate efforts in Afghanistan. She was sent to work among refugees and local leaders, and the bulk of her detailed, lively memoir delineates the stress and emotional toil she endured.

A carefully wrought work that allows a rare look inside Pashtun culture.