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The Women of Afghanistan

October 28, 2021

I’ve mentioned before how I am terrible at geography. World politics is another area where my studies are lacking. So when all the drama happened recently with the US pulling out of Afghanistan, I knew I needed to do some work. And I knew that I wanted to start with the women. I kept picturing women in blue burkas, hiding in their homes, but these books and these voices taught me that Afghan women are so much braver, stronger, and more intelligent than the propaganda would have us believe.

A word of caution: These are not necessarily books you read for pure enjoyment. I did like some of them, but some were gut-wrenching. I read these to educate myself about life in a different culture. They also taught me how powerful women can be when faced with a totalitarian regime who wished they did not exist. 

This is the most recently published book, so I want to start here. After living as a refugee in Pakistan and then as a non-person under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Niloofar grabs an opportunity to serve in the Afghani military after the American invasion. First of all, it was amazing that she had this dream. I live in a country where I can do anything I want, and I’ve never had any desire to fly a plane. Secondly, she was able to persevere and actually accomplish her dream. I only wish the men in her platoon could have appreciated this and not made her life a nightmare. Spoiler alert, this one doesn’t have an HEA (at least not yet), but it was still very inspiring.

Before I read them, I would have said that The Kite Runner (Hosseini’s first novel) would be sad and this one would be more enjoyable and educational. Now that I’ve read both fiction books and recent events have unfolded in Afghanistan, I have to say that I really enjoyed The Kite Runner (it was still sad in places), but this one absolutely gutted me. This story follows Mariam, a poor uneducated, unloved harami and Laila, an educated, loved daughter who both end up married to the same abusive older man as the Taliban take over Kabul. This book is supposed to have a happy ending because - spoiler alert - the Taliban are eventually thrown out of power and Afghanies worked towards rebuilding their lives. But that’s why it was so gut-wrenching for me. Now that the Taliban are back in power in Kabul and Afghanistan, we know that the good guys didn’t win this one. At least not as things stand now. And that makes me sad.

This one hit me because the author is a young lady who was born only 6 months after I was. The difference is that she was born in Kabul and I was born in Indiana. When she was 16 the Taliban took control of her country. I think about where I was when I was 16 - a sophomore in high school, learning how to drive, getting over an ACL knee surgery. Latifa, on the other hand, was locked in her house, unable to finish her schooling. Unable to get medical care in her home country - because she was a woman and male doctors couldn’t treat female patients (and women weren’t allowed to be doctors), she had to travel with her parents to Pakistan. When she got better, she and her friends started an underground school and it was this aspect of her life that brought her to the attention of Elle magazine and got her and her parents visas to France - where she remains to this day. Request your copy through ILL today.

This book was really good. I just kept reading and the next thing I knew, it was over. Author Nawa was born in Afghanistan, but left with her family when the Soviets invaded. Twenty years later she returned to tell the story of her never-forgotten country. Opium has become the driving force behind the Afghan economy. Farmers who grow poppy can afford to feed their families, or maybe even purchase cars or cell phones. But it is dangerous, and technically illegal, to grow and traffic in opium or it’s more refined cousin, heroin. Families lose sons to conflicts between warlords and sell daughters as opium brides to pay off debts. I was amazed at how much insight Nawa was able to get into this lifestyle. She was so brave as a female journalist in such a dangerous country - even if it was her home. This is an ILL special, but definitely worth the extra effort.

I think this is more what I was expecting when reading books about Afghanistan. The author is very brave and outspoken about what her people need to make Afghanistan thrive and she’s not afraid to call out the former (bad) mujahideen and warlords who are running the country. I wish I could be as brave as her. She gets daily death threats and has to have round the clock security, but she is unwilling to stay quiet. She had several quotable moments. One of my favorites was “[Afghan women] are not merely passive victims and are capable of standing up for our own rights.” This is also an ILL book, and it is good to hear dissenting voices.

Out of all the books I read about Afghanistan, this one is my favorite. The author spends each chapter telling stories from her life and then ends with a letter to her son - who was taken from her when he was 18 months old. Her husband wanted to take a second wife and she did not want that happen, so she confronted him. Instead of supporting her - as he had earlier in her marriage - he divorced her and took her son away. I loved her voice and I loved her bravery. I actually read this book in one day. I couldn’t put it down once I started reading.

If 5+ books is overwhelming to you, I hope you pick one of these and enter a world that is unfamiliar. The more we educate ourselves, the better we are able to help those who need us [and insert The More You Know star here]. 

Happy learning, growing, and being inspired…
:) Amanda

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Amanda is a classically-trained pianist who loves to read. Like any good librarian, she also has two cats named after Italian cities. Amanda spends her free time sitting in Nashville traffic, baking, and running the Interlibrary Loan office at the Nashville Public Library.