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Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse: The True Story of a Woman Who Risked Everything to Bring Hope to Afghanistan

Overview

Includes a Reading Group Guide and Author Q&A

From her first humanitarian visit to Afghanistan in 1994, Suraya Sadeed has been personally delivering relief and hope to Afghan orphans and refugees, to women and girls in inhuman situations deemed too dangerous for other aid workers or for journalists. Her memoir of these missions, Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse, is as unconventional as the woman who has lived it. This is no ...

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Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse: The True Story of a Woman Who Risked Everything to Bring Hope to Afghanistan

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Overview

Includes a Reading Group Guide and Author Q&A

From her first humanitarian visit to Afghanistan in 1994, Suraya Sadeed has been personally delivering relief and hope to Afghan orphans and refugees, to women and girls in inhuman situations deemed too dangerous for other aid workers or for journalists. Her memoir of these missions, Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse, is as unconventional as the woman who has lived it. This is no humanitarian missive; it is an adventure story with heart.

To help the Afghan people, Suraya has flown in a helicopter piloted by a man who was stoned beyond reason. She has traveled through mountain passes on horseback alongside mules, teenage militiamen, and Afghan leaders. She has stared defiantly into the eyes of members of the Taliban and of the Mujahideen who were determined to slow or stop her. She has hidden and carried $100,000 in aid, strapped to her stomach, into ruined villages. She has built clinics. She has created secret schools for Afghan girls. She has dedicated the second half of her life to the education and welfare of Afghan women and children, founding the organization Help the Afghan Children (HTAC) to fund her efforts.

Suraya was born the daughter of the governor of Kabul amid grand walls, beautiful gardens, and peace. In the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, she fled to the United States with her husband, their young daughter, their I-94 papers, and little else. In America, she became the workaholic owner of a prosperous real estate company, enjoying all the worldly comforts anyone could want, but when a personal tragedy struck in the early 1990s, Suraya seriously questioned how she was living and soon sharply changed the direction of her life.

Now, in Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse, she shares her story of passion, courage, and love, painting a complex portrait of Afghanistan, its people, and its foreign visitors that defies every stereotype and invites us all to contribute to the lives of others and to hope.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a well plotted, fluid narrative co-written with Damien Lewis, the founder of the charity Help the Afghan Children (HTAC) chronicles her long, arduous journey from impecunious Afghan refugee to the U.S. in 1982 to organizer of numerous clinics and girls' schools in her war-torn country. As the daughter of Kabul's governor, she feared for her life under the Soviet invasion and escaped with her husband and daughter; in America she got her real estate license and enjoyed a successful and wealthy life in Virginia—cut short with her husband's sudden massive heart attack and death in 1993. Yet with her loss came the dawning realization of the terrible hardship endured by her fellow Afghans after the withdrawal of the Soviets, the infighting of the mujahideen, and the rise of the Taliban. With money raised within the Afghan community in the U.S. for her new charity, she resolved to head into Afghanistan and administer the cash herself to the refugee camps. Her naïveté and tenacity allowed her to bypass the oily administrators of the camps and reach the neediest women and children, start schools and clinics, despite the enormous personal peril she courted as a woman reviled by the Taliban. Sadeed inserts numerous moving personal stories, such as meeting by chance a woman she went to school with, transformed and aged horribly. (June)
Booklist
"[A]n absorbing memoir."
Khaled Hosseini
"For years, Suraya Sadeed has worked tirelessly to help the people of her war-scarred homeland. This terrific memoir is the story of her struggles, her sacrifices, and her hopes. It is the moving life story of a remarkable woman who has overcome personal tragedy and has made it her single-minded mission to bring hope, relief, and a measure of happiness to the brutalized women and children of Afghanistan."
Mir Tamim Ansary
"I read this book in one gulp. I couldn't put it down. Suraya Sadeed is an amazing woman who has done what few others have dared, or cared enough, to do. Her life is inspiring, and so is her life story--this riveting, clear-eyed book."
More
"Wisecracking beneath her burka, [Sadeed] talks her way into horrific refugee camps, creates a clinic for women (they must skulk in by a secret door) and illegally starts a girls' school in a windowless basement. This former businesswoman turned full-time activist lives what she fervently believes: that education is more powerful than 'the bullet and the bomb.'"
East Bay Express
"An adventure story with heart that tells Sadeed's (the founder of the charity Help the Afghan Children) inspiring fight to bring aid, education, and peace training to Afghan citizens."
From the Publisher
"A moving message."—Kirkus

"[A]n absorbing memoir."—Booklist

"[A] well plotted, fluid narrative."—Publishers Weekly

"For years, Suraya Sadeed has worked tirelessly to help the people of her war-scarred homeland. This terrific memoir is the story of her struggles, her sacrifices, and her hopes. It is the moving life story of a remarkable woman who has overcome personal tragedy and has made it her single-minded mission to bring hope, relief, and a measure of happiness to the brutalized women and children of Afghanistan."—Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner

"I read this book in one gulp. I couldn't put it down. Suraya Sadeed is an amazing woman who has done what few others have dared, or cared enough, to do. Her life is inspiring, and so is her life story—this riveting, clear-eyed book."—Mir Tamim Ansary, author of West of Kabul, East of New York

"Wisecracking beneath her burka, [Sadeed] talks her way into horrific refugee camps, creates a clinic for women (they must skulk in by a secret door) and illegally starts a girls' school in a windowless basement. This former businesswoman turned full-time activist lives what she fervently believes: that education is more powerful than 'the bullet and the bomb.'"—More

"An adventure story with heart that tells Sadeed's (the founder of the charity Help the Afghan Children) inspiring fight to bring aid, education, and peace training to Afghan citizens."—East Bay Express

Kirkus Reviews

"For the cost of one [American] bombing run," the author writes in this hard-hitting debut memoir, "I doubtless could have fed and clothed and cared for those 100,000 displaced Afghan refugees. For the cost of another...I likely could have educated their children."

With assistance from Lewis (Apache Dawn: Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, 2009, etc.), Sadeed, the founder of the nonprofit Help the Afghan Children, chronicles her many trips behind the lines in Afghanistan, where most aid workers feared to go. In 1993, at the time of her first trip back, the Soviets had withdrawn from Afghanistan, but the country was divided into in warring fiefdoms, making travel dangerous. The author weaves together her personal story with that of her native land in this gripping memoir. After the 1979 Soviet invasion, Sadeed and her husband had been fortunate to be able to emigrate to the United States. The birth of her daughter and her career as a successful real-estate broker occupied her until the sudden death of her husband in 1993. In an effort to move on after her personal tragedy, Sadeed decided to raise money in order to provide basic necessities for the 100,000 people who were living in a temporary refugee camp on the outskirts of Jalalabad, and deliver it to them personally. The author describes the dangers she faced and the many brave, open-hearted people she encountered on this and subsequent trips. Some episodes were hair-raising, others heartwarming. She was able convince some Taliban leaders to assist her humanitarian mission, while, unknown to them, she was secretly funding underground girls' schools and health clinics for women. Sadeed provides insight into the traditional values which still sustain the culture, while making an eloquent appeal for understanding, compassion and aid for the people of Afghanistan, and for more schools in order to educate young people and break the cycle of violence.

A moving message from a courageous humanitarian, and more timely than ever.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401341312
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 6/21/2011
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 424,000
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Suraya Sadeed was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan and immigrated to the United States after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. She founded Help the Afghan Children in 1993 as a response to the humanitarian crisis she witnessed on a trip to her home country during the height of the Afghan Civil War. Since then, Suraya's work has been recognized and honored at the highest levels of government in both Afghanistan and the United States. She has appeared on such programs as the Oprah Winfrey Show and NBC's Weekend Today Show, and her story has been written about in Readers Digest and the Los Angeles Times Magazine as well as a film documentary Inshallah, Diary of an Afghan Woman, produced for the Oxygen Channel. In March of 2006, Suraya's work was recognized by President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush at the White House for her work in Afghanistan.

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Read an Excerpt

"Living in the West had given me every material thing that I could have wished for, but at the same time I had lost so much of what makes life worth living. In America my happiness was determined by the interest rate or the state of the housing market. If the interest rate fell, I was happy because I'd have to pay less on my home loans, and likewise if property prices rose. I had lived by that mantra.

Somewhere on the road to Jalalabad I had come back to myself. I had realized that I couldn't measure my happiness by numbers alone. I had helped countless refugees. And what I had gotten in return— experiencing the joy of helping others—was immeasurable. I could feel a new kind of happiness burning in my heart."
From Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse

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Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Acknowledgments xi

Prologue: Lessons by Lamplight (1997) 1

Part I Finding Hope in a Lawless Land (1993-1995) 15

1 Help the Afghan Children 17

2 The Beginning 29

3 The Camel Road 39

4 The Devil's Flowers 53

5 The Edge of Darkness 63

6 The Widow Camps 79

7 City of Ghosts 93

8 A Promise to Fatima 107

Part II Under the Iron Fist of the Taliban (1996-2001) 117

9 The Tree of Amputations 119

10 It Is What It Is 133

11 Stoned and Flying Out Here 145

12 The Day the Earth Turned Angry 157

13 Life and Love 169

14 Young Enough to Wed 183

15 New York Comes to Kabul 193

16 Singing with the Taliban 203

17 The Kindness of Strangers 219

Part III Battling for Hearts and Minds (September 2001-Present) 225

18 The Darkest Day 227

19 The Wrong Side of the Border 241

20 The Boy Who Killed the American 251

21 The Gift of Learning 263

Epilogue: Drop by Drop a River Forms 279

Afterword 281

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2011

    i highly recommend this book!!!

    i thought this book was well written, compelling & inspiring and i got a real insight into the lives of the people written about in the book, this is a story that will stay with me my whole life,

    i highly recommend this book, and it is now my favorite book to buy as a gift!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted June 25, 2011

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    Posted November 6, 2011

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