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56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Book
I have been an admirer of Phyllis Chesler for a long time. An icon of Second Wave Feminism, I first noticed Chesler when she wrote a book called Women and Madness, which presented credible evidence for a grossly unjust double standard when it comes to assessments of women's mental health in comparison to that of men. Basically, Chesler convincingly shows that when women...
Published 16 months ago by B. McEwan

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75 of 80 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Part Baffling, Part Enlightening
As a memoir, this book left me baffled and somewhat annoyed. As an examination of the treatment of females in Afghanistan and many other Muslim countries, this book serves as an important reminder of the horrors of their plight and the challenges of trying to facilitate change.

The book is marketed as a memoir, but those looking for a lot of detail and insight...
Published 16 months ago by Bee


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75 of 80 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Part Baffling, Part Enlightening, August 12, 2013
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This review is from: An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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As a memoir, this book left me baffled and somewhat annoyed. As an examination of the treatment of females in Afghanistan and many other Muslim countries, this book serves as an important reminder of the horrors of their plight and the challenges of trying to facilitate change.

The book is marketed as a memoir, but those looking for a lot of detail and insight should be warned that little is offered. I was hoping to learn about the experience of a young New York Jewish woman marrying an Islamic man and moving with him to Afghanistan. I was disappointed to discover that Chesler provides little detail about her own experience, and no context for understanding the decisions she made. (She still seems bewildered by her feelings and behavior, even 50 years later.) There is essentially no description of her life before she met Abdul-Kareem, other than the mention that she grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family. No information is shared about her own family-of-origin, which I found perplexing, especially given her training as a psychotherapist. I learned much more about her early years and her family from the brief Wikipedia entry than from her memoir.

The story starts with her courtship and marriage, and it quickly moves to her ordeal living with his extended family in Kabul. (I gather that she was there only a few months.) She says he became a different person in Afghanistan; his treatment of her ranged from neglect to abuse. Throughout the book, she tries to come to terms with her husband's transformation. I found it quite shocking that a woman who devoted her career to feminism could rationalize so much of her husband's misogynistic behavior as culturally inevitable and therefore somehow not his fault. It may be what she had to do to keep the connection to him and to his family even after she divorced him. But I wonder what price she has paid for seeing him as a relatively innocent victim of cultural conditioning. This oversight seems to have kept her in a relationship with a man who seems to view her as little more than a handmaiden to his delusions of grandeur.

This all came together for me in the last few pages of the book, where she describes a number of his personality patterns. In her words: "He never speaks without making sure his listener knows that he has moved in circles of power, among celebrities, heads of states, great artists, and beautiful women." She describes his conviction that "only he has the solution for Afghanistan," but when she encouraged him to share his solution with the reading public, he always had excuses for why he couldn't do it. She declares, apparently without resentment, that "he does not need me to speak. He needs me only to listen...." He tells her that she hasn't realized her potential, since she did nothing more than "writing a few books for a small circle of people." She writes "He is blind to-perhaps he despises-who I am and what I have accomplished." How could she not see these as deeply narcissistic behaviors? Didn't any of her friends point it out? Didn't she ever meet men with Muslim backgrounds who were not narcissists? It strikes me as unfair for her to blame it all on his culture. There were times when I felt I was reading the memoir of an abused woman who doesn't truly grasp that she is abused and who still tries to find non-blaming explanations for the abuser's behavior.

But setting all of this aside, I think that serious attention should be paid to Chesler's descriptions of the treatment of females in fundamentalist Muslim countries. She provides examples that are haunting, and she addresses the dilemmas of western nations as they try to balance cultural sensitivity with the protection of human rights. Despite her overly generous use of cultural sensitivity when dealing with her ex-husband, she comes down strongly on the side of human rights when it comes to the oppression of women who do not have the privileges and connections that helped her avoid what could have been a life of abuse and degradation.
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56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Book, August 14, 2013
This review is from: An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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I have been an admirer of Phyllis Chesler for a long time. An icon of Second Wave Feminism, I first noticed Chesler when she wrote a book called Women and Madness, which presented credible evidence for a grossly unjust double standard when it comes to assessments of women's mental health in comparison to that of men. Basically, Chesler convincingly shows that when women don't behave as men expect -- as our assigned gender roles dictate -- men decide that we crazy and lock us up in mental hospitals. Certainly, things have improved since Chesler wrote the original book 30 years ago, but this sort of oppression is still a problem and it was completely unrecognized before Chesler's pioneering work.

But that's another story. In this book, Chesler reveals something surprising about herself. She, foolishly it turned out, married an Afghan national when she was a young college woman, and went with him to his native Afghanistan. Once there, her husband turned into another person altogether, expecting Chesler to convert to Islam and become a compliant, burka-wearing wife. While she developed a deep regard for the landscape and its historical importance, she also developed a deep mistrust of her husband and his family. She was essentially a prisoner in "purdah," a term that refers to the drastic separation of women from the world. She lived cut off from everyone except the other women in her family, including the three wives of her polygamous father-in-law, who ruled the roost with an iron hand. She nearly starved, then contracted hepatitis, was forcibly impregnated by her husband and denied medical care. It's amazing she survived. Chesler's descriptions of that time and place in her life are at once oddly lyrical and chilling.

She seems to have a highly ambivalent attitude toward Afghanistan, and thus with Islam and its culture. She remains in touch with her husband, from whom she escaped with the aid of -- get this -- the father-in-law, who apparently just wanted to rid himself of the American embarrassment his son had dragged home. The son/husband, however, was adamant that she return to him, as he believed his social status would be diminished if it was known he "couldn't control" his wife. The whole tale is just appalling and brings to mind several similar works, most prominently for me the film, "Not Without My Daughter," about an American woman named Betty Mahmoody who was held captive by her husband in Iran.

Chesler's story would be quite enough to make a good read, but there is more to this book than just a story. In fact, she seems to be telling us her tale in order to demonstrate her qualifications for making a judgment that is the book's main message. That is -- radical Islam is not benign and people who are suspicious of claims made by Islamists are not "Islamophobic," merely realistic. Chesler's book is a warning to naive Americans that the culture gap between the US and Islamic nations is real, and we will fall into it if we make assumptions that good will is all that's required to resolve our differences.

Chesler has read a great deal about Afghanistan and lists many good sources, both old and new, in the book's bibliography. Her book is well researched and her story put in the context of history and current events. Remember Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called "Blind Sheik" who master minded the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993? Chesler cites him as an example of an Islamist who was not taken seriously enough on several occasions, and whose freedom is still sought after by many in the Muslim world who would take US hostages in an attempt to exchange them for the sheik, who is serving a life sentence in a US prison. In other words, there is a lot more than meets the eye when we are dealing with a culture that most of us don't understand and often fail to fully respect.

And that word 'respect' figures prominently in Chesler's book. She has managed to come to terms with her past and her Afghan relations, many of whom she remains fond of. She reiterates that she honors their spirit and their role in history while at the same time honoring her own culture as the child of Orthodox Jewish -- yes! -- parents, who must have been thrilled when their daughter quit an elite college to marry a Muslim and go off with him to Afghanistan. In fact, her parents helped her repatriate, which was no small accomplishment in the 1960s, when wives were considered foreigners and, basically, the property of their husbands, even by the American embassy in Kabul.

I could go on, but I hope that by this point I have made it clear that Chesler is not an Islamophobe or a hate monger. She is a fine writer who is telling her story as a cautionary tale and, I suspect, to accomplish some sort of personal goal for herself, a coming-to-terms evaluation that she needs to do now that she is in her 70s with more years behind her than ahead.

I hope that I have done Chesler and her book justice in this review. It's the kind of book that I know will stay with me for awhile, and that I will come to understand better after its content kicks around in my head for a bit. The bottom line is this: If someone with Chesler's progressive credentials is sending a warning, we should take heed. This is a 'must read' book for everyone.
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57 of 63 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars MEMOIR=2 STARS, WARNING=5 STARS, August 23, 2013
This review is from: An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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Shame on the publishers (Palgrave Macmillan) for marketing this book as a memoir. It's misleading. This is an incomplete memoir, at best and reads more like a treatise about Islam and the subjugation of women. Dr. Chesler's dire warning, however, is well worth reading.

Let's deal with the negatives first. This is an extremely limited memoir that focuses on ten weeks in the author's life. The reader expects to find background information of her earlier life: her parents, childhood situations, the motivations that led her to her choices as a young adult. Almost nothing is revealed to us. Similarly, she doesn't address her life's details after returning to America. The essence of a memoir is an intimate story covering life's events. The reader's hungry anticipation of an intimate story is akin to going to a grand buffet, only to discover the food is an illusion. As a memoir, this is a failure.

There is a lovely expression in Yiddish, loosely translated; with one backside, you can't dance at two weddings. It describes the dual roles this book is trying to fill. It contains a scholarly work's bibliography of close to 200 references and many are cited within the book. This detracts from the cozy readability of a memoir.

Reading an Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC), I know that changes are still to be made. Text may change and photos appearing in black and white may be in color in the finalized print edition. Yet, the book's cover is an absurdity. It depicts a tall, blonde woman; much unlike the author. It's meant to sell books of fiction, not of an autobiographical nature. This bothers me. Coupled with the inappropriate categorizing of this as a memoir, I feel duped.

Now for the positives. Dr. Chesler has written clearly and succinctly about a topic few of us in the West truly understand. She describes the role Islam plays in the religious and cultural aspects of life for Moslems. She explores the subjugation of girls, women, and slaves and how it impacts the lives they lead. Simply put, if your gender is female, you are chattel. You have no rights.

Dr. Chesler helps us understand the mentality of the Muslim male. He both fears his father/political leaders and plots to overtake him/them. This duality hampers his ability to forge an allegiance to people and ideals he truly believes in on his own.

If ever a population could be accused of paranoia, it is the Muslim males. Dr. Chesler portrays them as fearful of what others will think of them: their religious practices, their associates, and their choices of wives (and their domination of them). Every choice, every step, is observed. It's the ultimate `Big Brother is watching'.

As a psychotherapist, Dr. Chesler explains a critical, political point that we, as Westerners must grasp. She is warning us and we must listen. When we deal with others we do it from our own points of view. Our thoughts about how to treat others and how to negotiate stems from our own beliefs and morés. To successfully deal with the Arabs, we must abandon thinking along the lines of our own cultural system and deal with them using their mentality. Compromise is a sign of weakness. Total victory over one's enemies is the only acceptable outcome. The call for jihad is against the West. It includes Christians, Jews, Blacks--anyone and everyone who is an infidel, a non-believer of Islam. This holy war will not end until either we completely overpower them or, we are destroyed and our way of life reflects their culture, not ours. If this is reminiscent of the crusades of the Middle Ages, it is; only now the intended conversion is to Islam and not to Christianity. And as in those times, he who controls the mosque (church), controls the power; politically, geographically, and financially.

Dr. Chesler is a feminist. She understands that control of women is only the first of a myriad of subjugation to come. Just as in Pastor Martin Niemöller's Holocaust quotation (below), Chesler warns that, none of us is immune to the jihadists' intentions. Her insights and warnings make this book a must-read.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

Other authors I can recommend and have reviewed are: Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Teheran: A Memoir in Books; Things I've Been Silent About); Ayyan Hirsi Ali (Infidel); Malika Oufkir (Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail) and Souad (Burned Alive: A Survivor of an Honor Killing Speaks Out). Each of these authors writes admirable memoirs, including the suffering of women in Moslem countries. None, however, accurately depicts the psyche of the Muslim male as brilliantly as Dr. Chesler. And nowhere will we find as lucid an understanding and alarm for all Westerners as the one Dr. Chesler is sounding.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars " An Innocent Abroad", August 25, 2013
This review is from: An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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In the Magic Kingdom, ducks talk, elephants fly, birds sing incessantly and mice sew beautifully. Young princesses are almost always depicted as beautiful, fair, kind, trusting and innocent. They are no match for an evil stepmother or witch. After a particularly stressful ordeal, usually not of their own making, they are summarily whisked away by a dashing prince, assumably willingly, to live happily ever after.

In " An American Bride in Kabul", written by Phyllis Chesler, our princess, Phyllis, is not fair of skin, but she shares all of the other princess-like characteristics. She, however, would add one more, i.e., incredibly stupid. The lure of true love proves to be Phyllis' undoing.

As a middle-class "very Jewish" college student in New York she falls blindly in love with her very own prince, Abdul-Kareem, from Afghanistan . Although Abdul-Kareem is not really a prince, he is a handsome, rich, Westernized intellectual with mesmerizing eyes. They spend all of their time together. He dotes on her, talks and laughs endlessly with her, is fascinated by what she says. She becomes ensnared by the possibility of her own fairy tale.

Phyllis and Abdul Kareem never speak of their religious beliefs, his expectations for her as a wife, or what her daily life will be like in Kabul. She, in turn, does not do any research into his country or religion. After they have sex together, it is decreed by Jewish law that they marry, and so they have a quick civil wedding without her parents' knowledge and set off for their great adventure.

To me, a Western liberal woman, this memoir of her life as a young bride is both appalling and terrifying. After a brief, frugal honeymoon in Europe they return to Kabul, where she becomes more like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole. They are expected to live with his parents and other family members. Now the true magic happens. Abdul-Kareem almost instantly transforms himself into a conservative Muslim. He becomes a stranger to her, now abandoning his Western ways for a very conservative Islamic life. "Imbedded" in a the house of Kareem's mother, Bebegual, the first wife of his father, Ismail Mohammed, Phyllis' life is changed in an instant. Her diet, happiness, and access to the outside world is completely controlled by her husband, his mother and Islamic law.

In accordance with Islamic law she has no right to any liberties or expressions of her own. She cannot leave the house without permission of her husband and must be covered and accompanied at all times. Her status is summarized at the beginning of the book. "Afghans believe that ...women and children are a man's property. They are his protect or abuse. They are his to kill. It is the way things are. "

This book chronicles her eight years in a harem, in an elegant compound that has two additional houses for Abdul-Kareem's father's two additional wives. His father, Ismail Mohammed, the patriarch, lives with his third wife and their eight children.

Phyllis suffers daily, both physically and emotionally. Her stomach cannot easily digest the ghee that is cooked into most family meals. Although money is not an issue, Bebequal will not buy a more palatable oil such as Crisco which is readily available. As a result, she is almost always hungry. Her husband urges her to be patient. "It will all be arranged if I am patient." It is all about Kareem-Abdul. When Phyllis complains, he chides her, " Please don't ruin it for me." Kareem believes that they are being watched by everyone and that others are constantly weighing his value for future, important jobs. She cannot be an impediment to his progress.

Also, Phyllis is almost never alone. Female members of her family are nearby, urging her to play cards or talk with them. They appear concerned when she reverts to her bedroom to read alone, her one means of mental escape. She hardly sees her husband and rarely has a chance to converse with him. Family conversations are often in Dari, so she is even further isolated.

Phyllis is shocked by the substandard living conditions of the other two wives and their children. She is surprised to discover that Abdul-Kareem does not "seem to like or trust his brothers. These are brothers who would kill each other if they had the opportunity to do, particularly if there were something substantial to gain." His older brother, Hassan, actually verbally lashes out at her for using his bathroom. Daily life is fraught with tension, petty disputes and power struggles, often because the sons work for their father, and all of them are vying for his attention and awards.

This life of captivity takes his toll on her. "Everyone knows that I am at loose and desperate ends." She dreams of escaping, but her U.S. passport was taken from her upon her arrival in Kabul. The American embassy will not even grant her access as she is classified as an Afghan citizen now.

Phyllis is convinced that her mother-in-law hates her. Bebegual is constantly watching her, urging her to convert to Islam. One day, after being constantly harassed by her, Phyllis repeats the Shahada, words for conversion. Both Phyllis and her mother "believe" that she truly has converted. I say "believe" because it is my understanding that a true conversion to Islam is based on free will, something not glaringly evident in her life. However, it appears enough to appease Bebegual and create a long-lasting sense of shame in Phyllis.

Phyllis remains determined to escape, particularly after she has forced sex with her husband and becomes pregnant. After fighting with Abdul -Kareem she realizes that she can trust no one, and enlists help in leaving the country. Before her plans can materialize, Phyllis becomes seriously ill. Abdul Kareem has a doctor examine her. In short time, she slips into a coma and is diagnosed with hepatitis. It is her father-in-law who intervenes on her behalf, by smuggling milk custard, feeding it to her, and obtaining a six month Afghani passport and a plane ticket to New York. It is expected that she will return to Kabul after six months, which, of course, will never happen. Despite the fact that Abdul-Kareem is furious with her, miraculously she gets out of Kabul.

Upon her return to New York, she suffers a miscarriage. Phyllis then devotes herself to finishing college. Abdul-Kareem writes her regularly, pleading and demanding that she return, not accepting that she has truly made a decision to end what was left of their relationship. She is forced to resort to an ugly legal annulment.

In the confusion known as reality, Phyllis and Abdul-Kareem and his family form unique relationship over the years. He and his family are forced to flee Kabul. His story of his life under Soviet rule offers a chilling view into a jarring world. He settles in New York. He has asked Phyllis to publish an article about him to help promote his career day. She refuses to do so. Together, with his wife, Kamile, they have frequent exchanges about the rights of women, and particularly honor killings which Abdul-Kareem refuses to acknowledge. He is worldly and jovial on many topics, but on this subject he is entrenched. "I will not talk about that." They share many conversations that are "hilarious but instructive".

In the ensuing years Phyllis conducts serious research and writes of the lives of women under Islam. She also becomes a well- known activist who increasingly draws attention to the ongoing "right" of Islamic men to kill their female family members with impunity. Her book contains an impressive compilation of references, and she has become a formidable leader in this field. She has met with and championed the rights of women for many years.

Phyllis has led a life in which fanaticism and fantasy have met head on. However, there are many aspects of Afghani life she respects; and there are many relationships she cherishes

The chapter devoted to "The Jews of Afghanistan" is very instructive, particularly the Afghan-German alliance. In general, the book is very informative. It may be hard to imagine a world today in which women are held in such low regard. For this reason alone, the book is worth reading. It provides a realistic backdrop to a scenario that most Americans cannot hope to fully grasp. As the author states, "I am still the first wife." As He says, he does not believe in divorce. We remain connected in our own unspoken ways.

I look forward to reading other books by Phyllis Chesler.

Jodie Marino Nachison, spouse
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wow, September 5, 2013
By 
Debra (Rochester, NY, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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I was both totally floored and slightly confused by this book. It's an incredible look into the oppression faced by women in the Middle East that I can't imagine you would find elsewhere. She's brutally honest and has a surprising amount of objectivity in her discussions. She ties her emotions and thoughts together with history and other people's reflections in a way that will leave me thinking for years. She doesn't blame or point fingers and is really quite balanced in her perspective, even given what she endured. At every juncture she goes to great lengths to really explore other perspectives, rather than ripping people apart, which she really would have been quite justified in doing.

I also love her voice and use of present tense. It's difficult to do that well and she does it beautifully. She has a unique writing style that is a pleasure to read. I've never read anything written this way and I love it.

Having said that, her timeline was difficult to follow, she threw in quite a lot of history that was difficult to engage in, and her quoting from other authors was perhaps excessive. There's also a very raw feeling about the writing which I love, but also leaves you hanging and a little confused sometimes.

The description of the book is also misleading. It says she was on a journey for more than 50 years. I'm not sure how long she was in Kabul (that timeline is confusing) but I think it was less than 3 years. She talks about living in a harem, but she was the only wife of her husband living with her father-in-law's 3 wives. That is a harem, but not how I would think of a harem typically. Also, her "escape" while certainly must have felt that way, was actually her father-in-law giving her a passport and a plane ticket home. There was a legal battle later, but "escape" makes me thinking of sleeping in trees and eating bugs.

Having said that, everyone should read this book, if nothing else to gain another perspective of life in a place so extremely different from our own. The cultural value of this book is immense and really helps you understand why the Middle East has the problems that it does.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Exactly A Memoir, September 16, 2013
This review is from: An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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This book was put in the Memoir category and it really shouldn't be because that is a bit misleading. Yes, the author has related some of her experiences as a young bride living in Kabul, but really, it delves much more into the experiences of what women live like in places like Kabul and other countries where women's rights are severely repressed.

A lot of the reviews that I read before reading the book announced that it wasn't a good book because Chesler didn't write enough about her experiences as a young bride and it was more of a dissertation of all the other stuff she has written about before in her previous books. So it was with great trepidation that I read this book (wishing I had read the reviews before I picked it from the Vine newsletter).

I was pleasantly surprised though at how much I did enjoy this book. While it isn't exactly a memoir and it really should be corrected because it contains a wealth of information that I have read about before in other writings, but not with such a passion that Chesler has. Chesler starts out writing about her 10 weeks living in Kabul but ends up writing about the women being oppressed in Afghanistan and other places similar. She writes to understand her own personal journey (taking the reader along with her) and in that journey, she discovers brutal truth about relationships and history of the places that she loved. She grew up in a hurry and in the meantime, she still maintains touch with her ex-husband and his relatives.

The reason why I gave it a four star rating is simple. She really needs a good editor as she jumped from topic to topic and it got kind of confusing in spots trying to figure out what she was talking about. Also, she repeats herself quite a few times throughout this book, which is rather annoying for a reader like me, who doesn't need the repetition throughout the book.

I found this book interesting. It might help that I have not read of her other works. It also helps that I was able to ignore the fact that it was marketed as a memoir because I found the subject matter very interesting. It wasn't as personal as I had hoped for but the wealth of information I did glean from this book is immense. It is definitely an interesting read.

9/16/13
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Part Memoir, Part Lecture, and Part Tirade -- but VERY interesting, August 10, 2013
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This review is from: An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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I am glad that I read this book. I must start by admitting that I have never heard of Phyllis Chesler or her contribution to Feminist theory. I thought the book sounded interesting and wanted to read about her time as a young Jewish-American bride in Kabul and subsequent escape. The first half of the book is very readable. Ms. Chesler talks about her love affair with Abdul-Kareem, her move to Afghanistan and her captivity there. She tries to straddle the line between respecting and honoring those who helped her and being truthful about her conditions and treatment while there. I am not sure that the author really is able to achieve this delicate balance. I often felt like the author was editing herself and not providing the reader with the full story. At times, the author and her Afghan husband both seemed similarly immature, selfish and narcissistic. Neither party ever thought to discuss what they expected out of their marriage, their different religions, where or how they planned to live, and their respective roles within the marriage. Her "escape from captivity" is not a tale of intrigue or espionage; Phyllis asks her father-in-law to help her leave and he does so. The second half of the book deals with life after Kabul. Much of this section reads more like a text book on Afghan, Islamic and Jewish history. Not that these are not important topics, but they are not integrated into this "memoir" so much as inserted to make sure that the author has a sounding board for her views. The author definitely shares her anti-Islamist and pro-Zionist feelings openly. She does understand that her feelings will ruffle feathers and are not always politically correct. While I did learn many things, and don't regret reading the book, I feel that marketing this book as a memoir is a bit of a stretch. All-in-all, a very interesting read -- but at the same time, not the cohesive memoir that one might be expecting.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and academic, September 14, 2013
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This review is from: An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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Phyllis Chesler fell in love with a scion of an Afghan family in the 1960s. At 19, she left America, married him and immediately was plunged into another century in a culture foreign to her. Her mother-in-law wants her to convert from Judaism to Islam, or maybe just poison her.

Her husband quickly changes from American-educated world traveler to tribal leader's son (one of many sons) who is fighting shadows of guilt, doubt and inadequacy. He doesn't talk to her except to chide or correct her. He may (or may not) hit her. She is clear about not remembering.

All of that is fascinating. Chesler's meticulous documentation of her emotions is admirable. She refers not only to the diary she kept at that time, but also to other women's diaries--some famous, some not. She refers to others who studied women's rights and development in society--often well-known scholars.

For me (and maybe not for you), the cover of the book looks like a novel, or a memoir written like a novel. (I understand that most authors do not have any control over the cover. But seriously, editor, Chesler is a Jew from Brooklyn who repeatedly refers to herself as looking dark, like an Afghan woman. And yet, the cover image is of a blond--that was a disappointing marketing decision.)

The description of the book makes it sound much more like a memoir-novel, so I stumbled every time I came to a reference of a bigger study, or another interruption to quote another authority--all of which I took as a break in the plot line.

The story itself moves back and forth in time, the narrator is clearly past all the turmoil and trouble, and is safely back in America. She writes about the past while remaining firmly rooted in the (much safer) present. This device, while giving her research great credibility, really collapses readability. The plot starts and stops, backs up, jumps ahead to keep the theme organization solid.

It would make an excellent textbook, but it's a weak novel. Your opinion may be different, and you may well enjoy the credibility, notes included within the text and bullet-proof protection against the common memoir-problem--misdirection in the plot.

For my money, I like the way Judy Collins solved the problem in her memoir, Sweet Judy Blue-Eyes, in which she writes, in the introduction, that the memories and stories are how she remembers them now, and may be different from other people's memories. Then she tells the story, beginning to end. That works for the reader.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting and Moving Book, August 12, 2013
This review is from: An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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I discovered Chesler's first book, "Women and Madness" many years ago, and it made a deep impression on me -- I quote it and refer to it all the time. So I was eager to read this memoir of a very painful but formative time in her early life. It's an extremely quick read -- it took me just over a day to read its 220 pages of text. I read lots of memoirs and novels about Asian expats in the US, so it was especially interesting to read about the reverse, an American living in the Middle East as an Afghan. It must have been hard for Chesler to admit how naive she was at 20, with no idea how women lived in the Muslim world, or what married life was like even for western women until the 20th century. With her interest in exotic cultures one might have hoped she'd have read things and talked to people. But she had no idea she was being taken to live there -- she thought it was just a trip to meet her new in-laws.

The second half of the book is quite different from the first, as it discusses the meaning of her experience and how her former husband behaved after she left, during their divorce, and thereafter. What happened to Afghanistan and the Afghan people since she was there in the 60s is tragic, and illuminates the entire modern Muslim situation -- the rise of fundamentalism and extremism, and anti-Western feeling. While not as exciting as a narrative, it's even more chilling.

I recommend this book very highly to anyone interested in Muslim societies
and their relationship to the West, and in the lives of women in those societies.
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45 of 60 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Review from Closed the Cover, October 6, 2013
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This review is from: An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir (Hardcover)
The blurb for An American Bride in Kabul by Phyllis Chesler is enticing -"Twenty years old and in love, Phyllis Chesler, a Jewish-American girl from Brooklyn, embarked on an adventure that has lasted for more than a half-century. Chesler found herself unexpectedly trapped in a posh polygamous family, with no chance of escape. She fought against her seclusion and lack of freedom, her Afghan family's attempts to convert her from Judaism to Islam, and her husband's wish to permanently tie her to the country through childbirth." Unfortunately it is entirely misrepresented and does not live up to its potential. Instead of telling the story of a Jewish-American girl's harrowing life in Kabul it tells the story of a self-righteous and selfish young girl who spent 10 weeks in Kabul. The rest of the book is Chesler summarizing other books on Afghanistan, name-dropping other authors and historians and building up her own ego for being a woman before her time.

An American Bride in Kabul is a memoir I was anxious to read. I sought out, and received, an ARC of this novel. I moved it to the very top of my reading list and loved it, for the first 30 pages. My Twitter feed will indicate how immediately I loved Phyllis' story; however my love affair with her memoir ended up being shorter than her love affair with Abdul-Kareem and Kabul. Chesler honestly states that she was young, naïve and foolish when she fell in love with, married, and travelled to Kabul with her Afghan husband, Abdul-Kareem. He was wealthy, highly-educated and presented himself as a westernized foreigner who wanted to whisk her away and travel the world. Instead, they married and travelled to his home in Kabul where almost immediately Chesler began behaving as a spoiled, arrogant, self-righteous American brat.

She spent 10 weeks, yes 10 weeks, in Kabul and yet to read the book blurb, the marketing pitch or her own details of her time there it was as though she wasted away the best years of her life confined away from society. I had expected to read about a young woman who was forced to spend months or years living in a polygamous harem held against her will in a foreign country. I read a completely different story.

Chesler had a very ethnocentric attitude when she arrived in Kabul. She never presented herself as ever being willing to consider their perspective, point-of-view, customs or different way of life. She was very much an egotistical American brat who wanted everyone else to submit to her way of wanting to do things. She didn't like what they ate so they should cook or buy special food for her. She sunbathed in a "skimpy bikini" (her words) despite knowing that their culture expected women to be covered up. She snuck out of the house to explore alone even after being informed it could bring shame to their family. Her husband began to beat her - or not - she writes that she cannot remember. Her mother-in-law was trying to kill her (this she claimed because she told the cook that Chesler was an Afghan wife and not to cook her special foods). The depiction through the memoir is that Chesler was unwilling to compromise and unwilling to give a new culture a chance. It was her way or it was wrong and that was simply the way it was. She complains about the very few times that she was "allowed" to go out yet she was there for 10 weeks; a foreign woman who did not know the language, would not submit to following the customs of the local culture, was arrogant, rude, self-righteous, demanding, and rebellious.

After her return to the United States (using a passport and a plane ticket given to her by her Afghan father-in-law) her husband, Abdul-Kareem, writes her letters begging for her return. She describes his tone as "ironic, sarcastic, self-pitying, pompous and utterly heart-breaking." I chuckled. Aside from the "utterly heart-breaking" description it was exactly how I felt about her writing. There are so many problems with this book. The only polygamy is on the part of her father-in-law who has three wives. The "harem" is only that she shares a home with the other female members of the family. The "memoir" part of the book is very short as she spends so much other time talking about her education and referencing other books and quotes. The timeline is jarring as she will move forward two or three years and then backtrack to discuss something that happened only six months after her starting point. All in all, this is an utter disappointment.

Review by Ashley LaMar
Closed the Cover
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An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir
An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir by Phyllis Chesler (Hardcover - October 1, 2013)
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