After nearly a year of reading pretty decent (and sometimes amazing) books for my online book club, I guess it was time for that law of averages to catch up with us…
Strike one against the book was the fact that it is a memoir. I am really bad at caring about people’s personal histories unless they are hilarious or really really well told, and this one is very much neither.
It is super depressing right from the beginning, with Koofi recalling her life as a small child in Afghanistan living with her mother and her father and all of his other wives and all of the assorted children, which is not depressing at all until her father is murdered and those who killed him come after her family, causing Koofi and her immediate family to flee their small town. This is all part of the ongoing struggles and wars in Afghanistan starting in the ’80s, and so Koofi finds herself moving around the country and losing family members more often than anyone really should.
But Koofi tries to put an uplifting spin on it, talking about how even as a lowly girl child she was able to go to school because her mother made sure of it even over the arguments from male relatives — at least until the Taliban came along and ruined everything for the female half of the population. Koofi still had her own personal powers and abilities, but she had to use them through those male relatives. And she did use them, to great advantage to herself, building a family and getting into politics and becoming a member of the Afghan parliament and winning over men who saw women as less than people.
This is the thrust of the book, I think — that even though Afghanistan was forcibly turned into a backwater country by the Taliban the people of Afghanistan are generally better and can be made to see progress and change if progress and change are allowed to happen. By extension, it is a book about how you need to just do the things you want to do or need to do whether people approve of it or not, because once it works out well people will approve of it. And this is a pretty good moral for a story.
But the path to getting there is torturous. I said in my book club meeting that if this were a speech, it would be a fantastic one. Long, but fantastic. However, in book form, the digressions and repetitions and non sequiturs are obvious and tiring. And there are strange narrative gaps — at one point Koofi describes an arduous effort to get her husband out of jail which ends with three neighbors putting up their properties as guarantee that said husband will not leave Kabul and will go to certain meetings whenever called, and then one page later she is packing up her family and leaving the entire country. I really hope something else happened in between these events, but the book does not let me know! I am imagining a poor, tired editor fixing up this book and just giving up in the middle, figuring that if anyone gets that far they’ll just keep going anyway. Not that I ever did that as a newspaper editor, no sir.
Barring more caffeine for the editor, I like the suggestion of another book clubber that this book would have been better as written about Koofi rather than as told by her. She has an interesting story and I hope that someday she becomes president of Afghanistan so I can read a better version of it.
Recommendation: A good read for ladies and those interested in life in Afghanistan, if you’re willing to overlook the terrible writing. (I am not.)