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In My Father's Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate Hardcover – April 24, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 116 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"In vibrant but understated prose, Wahab vividly portrays a misunderstood culture, as well as the tense life on military bases where everyone must wear body armor and carry a weapon. While fighting to build a bridge of understanding between her 'native and adoptive nations,' Wahab admirably wages a more universal war--for gender equality, human rights, and peace."
--Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

"Extraordinary....detailed, lively...A carefully wrought work that allows a rare look inside Pashtun culture."
--Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

SAIMA WAHAB was born in Afghanistan, went to Pakistan as a refugee, and moved to the United States as a teenager. Since then she has become one of the only Pashtun female translators in the world, and—among other consequent roles—has returned to Afghanistan several times to work as a cultural adviser with the U.S. Army. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 3/25/12 edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307884945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307884947
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #620,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tiffany A. Harkleroad VINE VOICE on May 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Saima was born in Afghanistan, at a time of great strife, particularly for Afghan women. Her father was taken prisoner by the KGB, forcing Saima, her mother, and her siblings to eventually flee to Pakistan. After several years, the family decides to send all three children to America, to live with their uncles there, and obtain an American education. Saima, always aware she never wanted to be a traditional Afghan woman, struggles to reconcile the parts of her that identify as American with the parts of her that identify as Afghan. After many years in the states, she decides the answer lies back in Afghanistan, where she returns as an interpreter.

This was, hands down, one of the most incredible memoirs I have ever read. Saima Wahab is an incredibly fascinating woman. She very eloquently, and honestly, tells her story of life as an outsider. She is outside her own culture from the start, determined to never live the docile and subservient life of a traditional Afghan woman. Yet her Afghan and Pashtun upbringing cause her to also be an outsider within American culture.

So often Americans identify what they deem as problems within other countries and cultures, and rush in to try to "fix" things. They discount the etiquette of these cultures, and end up doing more harm than good many times. This book is an interesting glimpse of the Pashtun culture, and how delicate the interactions between Pashtuns and Americans can be. Saima undertakes a great services that honors both her cultures (American and Pashtun), by trying to facilitate better understanding and communication. The Pashtun culture seems so foreign to me, and in some ways backwards, but this book helped me have a greater understanding.

My heart broke for Saima throughout the book.
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Format: Hardcover
This book held a lot of promise, but its repeated overtones of arrogance and self-importance distract from the periodic descriptions of life as an interpreter in Afghanistan. First, it seems very unlikely that someone who left Afghanistan at a relatively early age could suddenly become such an expert on its culture from afar (enough to deride local Afghan interpreters and interpreters from other countries, like her). I left India as a young child and despite going back frequently throughout my life, I hardly would consider myself more knowledgeable about its culture than someone who lived there for much longer or even a non-native who studied the culture extensively.

Second, Saima is a hypocrite. (Possible spoiler, to the extent an autobiography can have one) - Saima basically details how a number of American military (and civilian) men love her beauty and exotic look (exaggeration, I'm sure, but maybe not, especially in a place where men have so few options, like a military base in a strict foreign country), and she accepts a number of them, but she then towards the end of the book talks about how an Afghan local working on the base "harasses" her by looking at her at the gym. Since this is against Afghan culture, she creates a huge uproar because she must "defend" her Pashtun-ness even though she doesn't hold Americans to the same standard. She goes out of her way in the beginning of the book to note how she's different from Pashtun women because of her independence and free-thinking and then she literally may have gotten a local man killed for looking at her. It is a very bizarre tale and basically sums up how disconnected the book is when it comes to her character.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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