by Saima Wahab
Pub. Date: April 24, 2012
Book received from: Publisher via TLC Book Tours
In My Father’s Country is a moving and inspiring memoir following Saima as she recounts her life from Afghanistan, to Pakistan, to America, and back again. A refugee from her homeland of Afghanistan at a young age, Saima spends a good portion of her life trying to figure out where she belongs. Her family fled to Pakistan to escape the rule of the KGB as Russia invaded Afghanistan. Years later, her mother and uncles arranged for Saima and her brother and sister to live in Portland, Oregon with their uncles, in order to escape the oppressive life they were destined to live.
However, Saima found herself living under the oppressive rule of her uncles, who allowed her none of the freedoms of the new country in which she found herself. After reaching a breaking point with her uncles’ judgments and expectations, she decides to move out on her own, facing possibly being disowned by her family. It is then, on her own for the first time in her life, when she begins to consider going back to Afghanistan to discover where she came from and who she is. She is given a chance, a few years later, to serve as an interpreter for the U.S.Army, as she is a rarity in that she is a woman who speaks both English and Pashtu (an Afghani language) fluently. It is through this experience that she is able to discover more about herself and all of the countries in which she lived, then she could have ever imagined.
Perhaps what drives this memoir the most is the spirit and strength of Saima, regardless of the oppressive situations she faced. Her father died for his cause, and she never forgot the price that many pay for the idea of freedom. It is because her father was a progressive that she is afforded a different outlook from the beginning, and is able to defy many traditions, such as arranged marriage. There is really no point that she takes the opportunities given to her for granted. Her voice remains humbled, yet strong throughout.
Her time spent with the U.S.Army was during the insurgency and war, and she explores the issues surrounding all of those involved. For those that are not clear on a lot of the relationships between the forces involved, she delivers a fairly detailed account of all those involved. Living in the U.S., it is easy to sit back and only catch bits and pieces of what is really happening on foreign soil, and it is even easier to become apathetic to various situations. However, Saima makes it clear throughout that this is not a book to read if you want to keep your head in the sand. She also makes it very easy to understand the ins and outs of the issues and relationships of all those involved, as it can be overwhelming trying to sort through various news stories to piece together the truth and reason behind it all.
A large issue for Saima is that of arranged marriage and how it has affected her views of relationships in general. Although she was lucky to have a family that refused several offers of an arranged marriage for her, growing up in a culture in which it is expected and imminent certainly had its influence on her views of marriage. Although she has several relationships and more than one proposal and engagement, Saima finds herself resisting the idea of marriage and belonging to a man in any way. She has vowed to never become someone else’s property, and she deals with the emotional issues of her upbringing in every relationship she attempts. However, although there is a certain sadness at the ending of each one, she finds that she becomes stronger and more self-aware every time- and that is personal success.
In My Father’s Country is not a book I would buy if I saw it on the shelf in the bookstore, as I would most likely dismiss it because of my own lack of understanding some of the issues surrounding the U.S.’s relationship with the Middle East. However, I would be wrong for doing so. Every bit of me is glad that I read this account of an amazing and nearly fearless woman. Not only because she explores many issues of gender and oppression, but because she takes the time to explain the tensions between the countries involved in the violence and regime changes. It is as much a personal narrative and it is a political expose, both of which deliver a deeper understanding of the issues at hand.
Crown has generously offered a copy of In My Father’s Country for one lucky reader. To be entered, simply comment below & tell me if you think we are informed enough about foreign affairs and why or why not, with your e-mail address in the comment.
Must be at least 13-years-old and live in the US/CAN. I will pick a winner by random March 28th, 2012.
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This book can be purchased at Amazon.com, as well as your local independent bookseller.