In My Father's Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate

( 15 )

Overview

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, at age three Saima Wahab watched while her father was arrested and taken from their home by the KGB.  She would never see him again. When she was fifteen an uncle who lived in Portland, Oregon brought her to America.  Having to learn an entire new language, she nonetheless graduated from high school in three years and went on to earn a bachelor's degree.  In 2004 she signed on with a defense contractor to work as an interpreter in Afghanistan, never realizing that she ...

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Overview

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, at age three Saima Wahab watched while her father was arrested and taken from their home by the KGB.  She would never see him again. When she was fifteen an uncle who lived in Portland, Oregon brought her to America.  Having to learn an entire new language, she nonetheless graduated from high school in three years and went on to earn a bachelor's degree.  In 2004 she signed on with a defense contractor to work as an interpreter in Afghanistan, never realizing that she would blaze the trail for a new kind of diplomacy, earning the trust of both high-ranking U.S. army officials and Afghan warlords alike.           
 
When she arrived in Afghanistan in the winter of 2004, Saima was the only college-educated female Pashto speaker in the entire country. She was stunned to learn how little U.S. and coalition forces knew about the Pashtun, who comprise 40% of the population and from whom the Taliban arose. The blessing of the Pashtun is essential, but the U.S. army was so unaware of the workings of this ancient, proud, insular ethic group, that they would routinely send Farsi interpreters into Pashtun villages.  As a Pashtun-born American citizen, Saima found herself in an extraordinary position—to be able to explain the people of her native land to those of her adopted one, and vice versa, in a quest to forge new and lasting bonds between two misunderstood cultures.
 
In My Father’s Country
follows her amazing transformation from child refugee to nervous Pashtun interpreter to intrepid “human terrain” specialist, venturing with her twenty-five-soldier force pro-tection into isolated Pashtun villages to engage hostile village elders in the first, very frank dialogue they had ever had with the Americans.

From her posting at the forward operating base Farah in Afghanistan’s blistering western frontier to the year she spent in Jalalabad translating for provincial governor “Hollywood Pashtun” Sherzai to the near-suicide missions of a year and a half in the Khost Province, where before every mission, she left instructions on how to dispose of her belongings, having to face the very real possibility of not coming back alive, Saima Wahab’s is an incomparable story of one young woman’s unwavering courage and undaunted spirit.

 
 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wahab's father welcomed her into the world with fanfare typically accorded the birth of a son—gunshots into the Afghan sky. Though his friends chastised him for celebrating a daughter in such a way, Wahab's father insisted his daughter would "do more for her people than one hundred sons combined." Three years later, in 1979, he was captured by the KGB for speaking out against Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. He never returned. After being shuffled to the care of her progressive grandfather, Wahab eventually wound up with her uncle in Portland, Oreg. Though she completed high school in only three years, Wahab could no longer abide her uncle's strict enforcement of Pashtun gender-biased codes of conduct, so she moved out. After college, determined to live up to her father's hopes, Wahab became an interpreter for American forces in Afghanistan. As one of the military's few speakers of Pashtu—a complex and heavily-coded language—Wahab became a spokesperson for her culture, educating her colleagues and helping them to establish relationships with her fellow Pashtun people. 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. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"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

Kirkus Reviews
An extraordinary journey by a Pashtun refugee in America who was able to return gracefully back to Kabul. At age five, in 1979, Wahab began her life on the run after her father was taken from their Kabul home by KGB agents during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. At the mercy of male relatives, Wahab, her two siblings and mother were sent to live with Baba, the grandfather, first in Ghazni Province, then in Peshawar, Pakistan. Out of guilt, kindness or a promise to her father, Baba allowed Wahab to attend school, even though she was the only girl in her class and was already getting marriage proposals at age nine. At age 15, the three siblings were sent to Portland, Ore., to live with their professor uncle, who bestowed on them an American education but insisted on traditional sexist double standards at home, which eventually enraged the strong-willed teenager. After college, she finally moved out of the close-knit family when she'd had enough of being considered "dishonorable and dirty" for craving a life of her own. Being outspoken was a liability for a traditional Pashtun woman, and while she never lacked for American suitors, it invited loneliness. As a rare speaker of both English and Pashto, she was hired by the U.S. military in 2004 to help coordinate efforts in Afghanistan. She was sent to work among refugees and local leaders, and the bulk of her detailed, lively memoir delineates the stress and emotional toil she endured. A carefully wrought work that allows a rare look inside Pashtun culture.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307884947
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/24/2012
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 344,474
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet 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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 15 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(7)

4 Star

(5)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

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1 Star

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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2012

    A must read-5 Stars Plus

    Samia I wish to thank you for sharing your story, I could not put the book down. When reading about your first and subsequent deployments it was as if I was there in Afghanistan with you and my husband! You arrived at BAF the same month my husband left BAF to go to Ghazni in 2004. I learned more from reading your book than I have from my husband, military personnel tend to not share deployment information. Even if a reader does not have a connection to the military READ this book! You will learn so much more about the highly respected and very much needed interpreters who accept to be deployed to a combat area, without them our military would be lost. Kudos to all interpreters both those who are deployed from America and those who accept the assignment in country. Thank you Samia Wahab.

    17 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2012

    This was an amazing story! I found it to be informative and educ

    This was an amazing story! I found it to be informative and educational. I was eager for it to continue, I want to know where the story goes next. I was mesmerized by they detailed descriptions of the country and the people. Loved this book!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 5, 2012

    A Personal View into Pashtun Afghanistan

    I learned about this book from Jon Stewart during his interview with Saima Wahab on "The Daily Show." This book was such an eye-opener for me. By living both the life of a young Pashtun girl in Afghanistan and then moving to America and experiencing the liberties we so easily take for granted, Saima was in a unique position to understand both cultures and do good for both of our contries. This book clarified significant difficulties our troops have had in making much progress with gaining the trust of the Pashtun people in Afghanistan. If only there were a hundred Saimas to facilitate authentic and respectful communication between our people and theirs. I really enjoyed reading this book and felt so comfortable with Saima's voice presenting her story. Her stories also gave me such a sense of pride in our troops, their true American friendliness and their willingness to be advised by Saima in ways to respectfully approach and aid these proud but rightfully suspicious people. I saw the best of what Americans can offer. I only wish she could have reached more of our armed forces to guide them. Saima Wahab is a remarkable woman. Her remarkable father and grandfather would be so proud of her.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2012

    From a soldier's mom

    Facinating. My son served four deployments in special ops at
    many of the fobs described in this book. I am glad i read it after he got out a few weeks ago. Now i can better understand what this war is about and the experience of those who serve. A wonderful book that will not be forgotten.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2012

    Balances intellect & emotion on afghan vs american life

    Should be mandatory reading for any us citizen in afghanistan .. it is so interesting that i read it in 3 days! I hope that her mission continues for many years.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2012

    I learned a lot about Afghan culture, but the author's incredibl

    I learned a lot about Afghan culture, but the author's incredibly huge ego was distasteful and obnoxious.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2012

    Takes you into another culture

    The author takes you on her journey from Afghanistan to the United States and reminds us how much of our fate is determined by where we live and our family's support. Despite losing him early, Wahab's life has been clearly driven by her father's vision for her despite other family members wanting to hold her back. Enjoyed learning more about Pashtun culture and the issues in Afghanistan which present challenges for our troops. Would have preferred a little less time on Wasab's personal relationships but overall enjoyed the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2012

    5 stars!

    Wonderful! I couldn t put it down!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2013

    Great read!!!!

    Great read!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2012

    Wonderfully

    enlightening!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2012

    An eye opener

    I saw Saima Wahab interviewed on tv about this book and bought it immediately. It's a real eye opener on how Americans are perceived abroad and the misunderstandings we have about other cultures....and that other cultures have about us. I admire the author's dedication to helping US troops improve relationships in Afghanistan, and her tenacity to a difficult job.

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    Posted July 27, 2013

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    Posted June 30, 2013

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    Posted February 20, 2013

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    Posted October 23, 2012

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