In My Father’s Country by Saima Wahab

by Gwen

From the Hardcover edition

*If you have ever wanted to really be immersed in what it means to be a woman in Afghan culture, this is your book.

*If you have ever been curious about immigrants deal (or not deal) with the cultural clash when they come to the US. I don’t mean the red tape, but the women can show their faces, live alone, and receive phone calls from the opposite sex, sort of clashes. Whatever, this is your book.

*If you know nothing about the tortured history of Afghanistan and are wondering why in the heck we are there…this is your book.

*If women’s issues interest you, you guessed it, this is your book.

Saima Wahab’s father was arrested from his home in Kabul when she was three and they never saw him again. What was left of her family was shuttled around to other family homes and even took a tortuous journey to Pakistan until when she was fifteen, she was sent to her uncle’s home in Oregon to get an education.

Living in Oregon meant more freedom, but being in her Uncle’s home meant continual struggles between being American and being an Afghan woman. Conflicts arose in her own psyche, just where did she fit in and whom did she want to honor. She got her education, but was still lost and somewhat isolated from Americans.

Then the Americans invaded Afghanistan and Saima saw her chance to find just what her father had died for. Why had he been willing to speak out and give his life for the people of Afghanistan. What hadn’t she seen when she left her father’s country on the back of a donkey so many years ago. When the opportunity to work as a translator there comes up, she takes it, with some doubts, but tries not to look back.

What follows is the story of not only a people but a personal struggle to find her place in the world. As the fighting becomes more intense, Saima’s personal struggle deepens and she is able to put portions of her fractured identity into words. Should she leave her father’s culture behind or find a way to blend both?

Okay, the book as a whole was fascinating. I have read a few memoirs from women that grew up in the Middle East, but I have never thought of the conflict that goes on in their mind when dealing with two divergent cultures. Throw in the fact that shutting the door on her Afghan-ness would be like shutting the door on what her father had died for, and you can imagine the inner struggle.

So many memoirs you read are along the lines of “life there was horrible for women, then I moved here and I can wear jeans and am so happy.” This wasn’t that, Saima truly loves her country and understands it. What also shows through is that she loves America and understands many Americans. She tries to see herself as the bridge between.

Towards the end though, I have to admit, that I was starting not to like her. She is/was one of the few Pashtun English speakers and we are reminded of this again and again. Instead of say, trying to recruit more, she comes across as this sort of one woman crusade to save her country. Only she can do it and she knows better than any of the military. That semi-arrogance was a small price to pay for all that I was able to absorb.

Got this baby from TLC Book Tours




6 Responses to “In My Father’s Country by Saima Wahab”

  1. Wow, this sounds really great. I love books about cultural issues. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. I love your last sentence – it definitely gives a clue as to how worthwhile reading this book is!

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  3. Your last paragraph was part of the reason I realized this book was not for me. I was intrigued by the first half, but then even from the summary, I felt the tone shift drastically. I’m glad you thought the first half was great.

  4. The shift was drastic, I went from wanting to shake the Wahab’s hand and thank her for teaching me so much about her culture and struggle to sort of tuning her out.  Still, I came from a place where I knew nothing about Afghanistan, so I am grateful for the the first, say, three-quarters of the book. 

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