Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab

In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab
Published April 2012 by Crown Publishing Group
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

""I was welcomed into this world with gunshots."

In Afghanistan, when a son is born, tradition dictates that the father rushes into the street with his pistol and fires a few rounds into the air to celebrate. My father did this for Khalid, my older brother, his firstborn, as was the Pashtun custom. A little over a year later, minutes after I was born, my father rushed outside with his weapon and did the same..."I promise that my daughter will prove that she is better than many Pashtun sons, and will do more for her people than on hundred sons combined.""

Five years later, Saima Wahab's father was taken from his home by the Russians who were infiltrating the country. Saima never saw him again. Fearful, the family fled Kabul, eventually reuniting in Pakistan. But even there, Wahab's mother feared for her children's safety and sent them to live with uncles in Portland, Oregon. Saima, who had long rebelled against the treatment of women in her country, was surprised to find herself unable to fully integrate into American culture but also unable to live up to her uncle's standards. After fleeing her uncle's homes, she was estranged from her family for many years and fell into a deep depression as she struggled to find a way to blend her Afghan roots and her love of America. One day she received a call that would change her life. The United States was looking for Pashtun translators to assist the troops in Afghanistan. It would offer Wahab the opportunity to revisit the land of her father and try to come to terms with her heritage.
"On that long flight to my motherland, I made two promises to myself: one, that if ever I saw that Afghanistan had become a country my father would be ashamed of, I would leave that same day. The second was inspired by my paranoia...I would guard my American passport with my life. I feared that the men of Afghanistan would suck me back into a life with no rights, a life that I thought I had escaped - the shackles that so many Afghan women accept as their fate."
I always jump at the chance to read books from this part of the world, both fiction and nonfiction.  I am so intrigued by the culture, heritage and struggles of the country and never fail to learn from these books. In My Father's Country was no exception. Having just read The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, I was concerned that there would be little more for me to glean about Afghanistan from this book. I could not have been more wrong. While Dressmaker did deal extensively with the plight of women in the country, it was only while reading In My Father's Country that I began to understand why women, even those who are opposed to their treatment, have a hard time fighting against it.
"In Pashtun culture, women are the protectors of family shame. A woman's behavior can ruin the status a family holds in the community. This strong link between women, pride, and shame is one of the primary reasons why women are so furiously protected and controlled."
Wahab also is able to give the reader a look at the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan at ground level. She must find her place amongst the U.S. forces, help to bring about a greater understanding between the U.S. and the Afghan locals. and find a way to balance her modern ways with the Afghan culture. After the six months that she had initially committed to were up, Wahab signed on for an extended stay, convinced she had not done enough. She was determined to fulfill what had been foretold by her father, who he didn't know at the time but in whom he had faith.
"I vowed then to spend the rest of my years on earth making his [her father's] words come true."
The story of Wahab's journey to do just that is an eye-opening look at her heritage and an inspiration. I can't imagine having the incredible courage Wahab had as she risked her life day after day, venturing into remote areas of her homeland in her capacity as a translator, knowing the very thing that made her such a valuable asset for the Americans also made her a huge target with the insurgency. Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other reviews, check out the full tour.


  1. Courageous writing this out. I would have thought repercussions even from a book would have been tough to face.

  2. How interesting - I usually run fast and far when I see a book with this setting. Not sure why - but now that I've read your review I'm kinda fascinated. May have to get over my own sterotype and give it a try.

  3. Beautiful review, Lisa. Just added this one to my list.

  4. I do really like the sound of this one, and I have been racing some rave reviews. It seems like a really poignant story with a lot of importance, and you did a really great job with this review. Your review has finally pushed me over the edge on this one. I am going to buy it as soon as I next shop for books!

  5. Excellent review! I found Saima's story inspirational as well. I will have to give The Dressmaker of Khair Khana a try as it sounds like what I was missing from Saima's book.

  6. She sounds like a truly brave (and motivated) woman, and worth reading about!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  7. Wow. What an inspirational story and a fabulous review. I hadn't heard of this book before but you definitely have me intrigued now. Thank you for sharing!