About the Book:
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Crown (April 24, 2012)
In Afghanistan, there is a Pashtun saying known by every woman and by every girl: “A woman should leave her house only twice in her life: once as a bride to go to her husband’s house, and once to the cemetery to be buried.”
Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saima Wahab seemed destined to lead the life of any Pashtun female—a life of dependence, without education, a probable child bride—but today, more than three decades later, it is clear that this now American-Pashtun, “Human Terrain” specialist was destined for far greater things. In her new book, In My Father’s Country, Saima shares her remarkable journey: At age three, she watched while her father was arrested and taken from their home by the KGB. She would never see him again. When she was fifteen an uncle who lived in Portland, Oregon brought her to America. Having to learn an entire new language, she nonetheless graduated from high school in three years and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree. In 2004, she signed on with a defense contractor to work as an interpreter in Afghanistan, never realizing that she would blaze the trail for a new kind of diplomacy, earning the trust of both high-ranking U.S. army officials and Afghan warlords alike.
When she arrived in Afghanistan in the winter of 2004, Saima was the only college-educated female Pashto speaker in the entire country. As a Pashtun-born American citizen, Saima found herself in an extraordinary position—to be able to explain the people of her native land to those of her adopted one, and vice versa, in a quest to forge new and lasting bonds between two misunderstood cultures.
In My Father’s Country follows Saima from child refugee to nervous Pashto interpreter to intrepid “Human Terrain” specialist, venturing with her 25-man security detail into isolated Pashtun villages to engage hostile village elders in the first dialogue they’ve ever had with an American. It is also an examination of her life as an American-Pashtun woman; a woman working to create a balance between the two conflicting cultures that comprise her past and shape her future.
About the Author:
SAIMA WAHAB was born in Afghanistan, went to Pakistan as a refugee, and moved to the United States as a teenager. Since then she has become one of the only Pashtun female translators in the world and, among other consequent roles, has returned to Afghanistan to work as a cultural adviser with the U.S. Army. A longtime resident of Portland, OR, Saima now lives in the Washington D.C. area.
Saima Wahab was a very young child when her father was killed by the Russians as they tried to take over Afghanistan. She and her family ran to her grandfather's lands and then to Pakistan to remain safe. When that was no longer working she and her siblings were sent to uncles in the US. While living in the States she gets an education in more ways than one - she learns about women's freedom and she graduates from college. After clashes with her uncles Saima moves out on her own but feels unfulfilled. She is presented with an opportunity to be an interpreter for US forces during the Afghanistan war.
I found myself very conflicted after reading this book. I found the insights into the Afghan culture fascinating. The writing was excellent and the book easy to read. The story of Saima's childhood and assimilation into America made for good reading. My problems lie with Saima's inability to reconcile her two sides, the Afghan and the American. She wants the freedoms afforded to her by her American passport but she also wants all that comes with the ancient culture of her Pashtun ancestors. But she cannot have it both ways
Her constant war between her two sides gets very old in the reading. It impacts her relationships with men and it impacts her interactions with those around her. It seems that she is quite aware of it but either unwilling or unable to do anything about it.
It is hard to feel so harsh towards the writer of a memoir but it really did bother me. Whenever she broke away to discuss Afghanistan though her love for her country and its people came through loudly and clearly. This is where this book truly came alive. Saima wanted to so much to bring understanding between the two countries. I am not at all unhappy I read the book.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of In My Father's Country from TLC Book Tours. Any opinions expressed are my honest opinions and were not impacted by my receipt of the free book. I received no monetary compensation for this post.