In My Father’s Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate by Saima Wahab
Published: 2012 by Crown Publishers
Source: Received from the Publisher for Review
In 1979, Saima Wahab’s father was taken from his home in Kabul, never to be seen again. This event, and the Soviet invasion which followed not long afterwards, spurred her mother to take her children and stay with relatives in the Afghan countryside. When that setting too became dangerous, the family fled to Pakistan; but when it became clear that the war was not going to end soon, Saima’s grandfather arranged for his sons in America to accept his grandchildren to ensure their safety and allow them the opportunity for a better life. Settled in Portland, Saima and her brother and sister try to blend in with kids their own age, but at the same time are obligated by their uncles to live by the tenets of their Pashtun origins. It is this internal conflict within Saima – between her American and Afghan selves – that form the foundation of this memoir.
After graduating college and moving through relatively meaningless office jobs, Saima is given the opportunity to return to Afghanistan as a Pashtu interpreter for the U.S. military. Her skills – not only as someone who is fluent in Pashtu and English but as a female speaker of these languages – are in high demand and she agrees to the assignment, initially for six months. In time, she becomes more than an interpreter of languages but also an interpreter of cultures.
I can’t imagine the experience of a child who is forced to flee a conflicted homeland and who returns many years later, so I feel uncomfortable in my dissatisfaction with her story. Though she talks of the various people in her life – her family, boyfriends/lovers, colleagues – her tone when talking about them seemed distant to me, making her seem a “lone wolf” trying to save the world on her own. I was also disillusioned by the way she held herself as both an American and an Afghan; again I am uncomfortable with my impression that she turned each side on and off as it suited her but I suppose anyone in that situation would do the same thing.
Generally when I read a memoir I feel like I have been immersed in that person’s life; that I am able to experience the same emotions when I read how an event or series of events affected his/her life. With this memoir, however, I didn’t feel close to the author at all.
But that is just my opinion. Please visit the other stops on this tour to read how others reacted to this book.