Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom

Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom

4.3 10
by John Follain, Rita Cristofari

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Kabul was always more beautiful in the snow. Even the piles of rotting rubbish in my street, the only source of food for the scrawny chickens and goats that our neighbors kept outside their mud houses, looked beautiful to me after the snow had covered them in white during the long night.

Though she is only twenty-three


Kabul was always more beautiful in the snow. Even the piles of rotting rubbish in my street, the only source of food for the scrawny chickens and goats that our neighbors kept outside their mud houses, looked beautiful to me after the snow had covered them in white during the long night.

Though she is only twenty-three, Zoya has witnessed and endured more tragedy and terror than most people experience in a lifetime. Born in a land ravaged by war, she was robbed of her parents when they were murdered by Muslim fundamentalists. Devastated, she fled Kabul with her grandmother and started a new life in exile in Pakistan. She joined the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), an organization that challenged the crushing edicts of the Taliban government, and she took destiny into her own hands, joining a dangerous, clandestine war to save her nation.

Direct and unsentimental, Zoya vividly brings to life the realities of growing up in a Muslim culture, the terror of living in a perpetual war zone, the pain of losing those she has loved, the horrors of a woman’s life under the Taliban, and the discovered healing and transformation that lead her on a path of resistance.

Editorial Reviews

Zoya is a 23-year-old Afghan woman who has already seen enough misery and heartbreak to last a lifetime. She grew up with war as a constant companion, her mother and father killed by Muslim fundamentalists. Fleeing Kabul with her grandmother, she wound up in Pakistan, where she joined an organization devoted to ending the Taliban's rule. Her crusade for freedom has led her back to Afghanistan many times, in an effort to help other women imprisoned within their oppressive burqas. Zoya's experiences and thirst for change will enlighten and inspire.
Publishers Weekly
Now 23, Zoya was a child during the Russian invasion and a teen when the Taliban took power. The daughter of activists in Kabul, Zoya was raised by her grandmother after her parents disappeared. She now belongs to RAWA (see the review of Veiled Courage, above), a group her mother belonged to. Her reflections show the complex scars made by the tug of war between factional governments and tribal warlords, especially the effects of the Taliban. Many of Zoya's stories (e.g., women only permitted to leave their homes wearing a burqa and accompanied by a male; women often suffering and dying for want of a female physician) are covered in Latifa's My Forbidden Face (Forecasts, Mar. 11). Zoya tells of a society where kite flying, bright colors and even women's laughter is forbidden, and enforcers are often armed with Russian military leftovers or crude stones. Yet the Afghans Zoya speaks of remain rebellious and hopeful. She writes, "When I... saw Kabul in the daylight, even the mountains beyond the city which had seemed so peaceful to me when I was a child looked sad. But... that I had seen them again... made me feel stronger." Assigned by RAWA to live and work in a refugee camp near the Afghan-Pakistani border, Zoya now also travels abroad to raise funds for her organization. Her narrative voice is quiet and clear, making her recollections of the breathtaking violence she has witnessed nail-bitingly vivid and her descriptions of her struggle candid and poignant. Agent, Clare Alexander. (Apr.) Forecast: Like My Forbidden Face, this account will appeal to a more commercial readership. Coming on the heels of that memoir, Zoya's Story could lose some potential sales. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The horrors perpetrated by the Taliban and the Mujahideen and the inhuman restrictions imposed on all girls and women are recounted in this first-person narrative by a young woman from Afghanistan. The Soviet occupation of her country defined Zoya's earliest memories, but these were also her happiest times. She remembers flying kites, eating candy, watching television, and sneaking a dab of her mother's perfume. With the exit of the Soviets came the crushing, violent rule of the Mujahideen, the fundamentalist warlords. They were responsible for killing Zoya's parents for speaking out about the oppression. Zoya's adoptive grandmother then decided to flee with Zoya to Pakistan. In exile, Zoya's future began to take shape. She attended a girls' school and formed her resolve to fight for women's rights. She grieved for her country when the Taliban seized control in Afghanistan and turned it into a religious state where women were stripped of their humanity. In addition to wearing the burqa, women were banned from education, from dealing with male shopkeepers or being treated by male doctors, from traveling unaccompanied, from wearing shoes that make any noise, and from laughing or doing laundry in public-the list goes on. Zoya joined the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), dedicated to improving the lives of women, and she began working in a refugee camp and speaking abroad. It was on one of these overseas trips that Zoya was persuaded to write down this story of the suffering of her people, especially the women. This book will be useful for units of study on women's rights, Arab culture, Asian history or geography, or Islam. It can also be read as a biography. Girlsespecially will identify with Zoya's pain and her fight to change the lives of the women in her homeland. Chronology. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, Morrow, 239p,
— Leslie Carter
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Born in Afghanistan in 1978, Zoya was an infant when the Muslim fundamentalist Mujahideen enlisted the aid of the United States to help fight against the Russian invasion of her country. Her parents homeschooled her for two major reasons: the Mujahideen often bombed the schools, and the teachers taught more about Russia than about their own country. Zoya's mother was an active member of the illegal and secret Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which worked tirelessly to help women and to liberate Afghanistan. Often, to carry on her undercover work, she wore the hot, cumbersome burqua. Zoya discusses the many beatings, rapes, tortures, amputations, and executions committed by the Mujahideen and the Taliban. After her parents were murdered for their revolutionary work, she and her adoptive grandmother fled to Pakistan. In her mid-teens, she devoted her life to liberating Afghanistan through literacy classes, rescue efforts, and speeches. She describes her first visit to New York in February 2001, and expresses the sympathy that she and her friends felt on September 11. Readers will relate to Zoya's clear, personal account of recent Afghan history, and her story would be a good supplemental text for social-studies courses.-Joyce Fay Fletcher, Rippon Middle School, Prince William County, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A tale of struggle and suffering under the Taliban and their predecessors, from a courageous freedom fighter who has become an international spokesperson for the Afghan people. The woman who narrated this story to two journalists does not use her real name. She is a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), created in the 1970s to resist first the fundamentalist mullahs, then the Russians, then their successors, the mujahideen and the Taliban. "Zoya" wistfully recalls her childhood in Kabul, where her grandmother cared for her while her mother worked, often coming home exhausted late at night. In 1985, the year Zoya turned eight, her mother finally explained that it was her work for RAWA that kept her so busy. Soon Zoya was carrying secret papers in her backpack as she accompanied her mother on political work. She learned to lie about her mother's whereabouts and came to realize that, though her mother loved her, work came first. That realization signaled the end of her childhood: "I feel no sadness about this—I wanted to grow up fast so that I could achieve something useful." After the Russians withdrew in 1989, the mujahideen began shelling Kabul and her parents disappeared, apparently killed. Mujahideen soldiers forcibly entered homes demanding that young women marry them; it was dangerous to be out on the streets even for women in burqas. In 1992, RAWA arranged for Zoya and her grandmother to flee to Pakistan, where she attended a RAWA-run girls' school. When the Taliban took over, she began working in the refugee camps in Pakistan, returning only once (heavily disguised) to Kabul. She vividly describes Taliban atrocities, the grossly inadequatemedical care for women (most female doctors fled), and the absurdity of wearing the cumbersome burqa, in which "something as mundane as eating ice cream became a ridiculous undertaking." Timely and sobering

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Chapter One

Kabul was always more beautiful in the snow. Even the piles of rotting rubbish in my street, the only source of food for the scrawny chickens and goats that our neighbors kept outside their mud houses, looked beautiful to me after the snow had covered them in white during the long night.

I was four years old that December, and I had been playing in the snow with some other children. We pushed and shoved one another, trying to dodge the snowballs -- not an easy thing to do in a street that was so narrow only three adults could walk down it shoulder to shoulder. We stopped playing because one of us wanted to buy something; not me, I didn't have the money, although the shopkeeper near my house usually let me pay for something the following day. We all piled into the small shop.

There was a Russian woman soldier in the shop when we entered. Like the soldiers I had seen marching in the city, she wore a dark green uniform and big boots. She saw me and stretched out her hand to offer me a chocolate in shiny yellow wrapping. It was one of my favorites.

The woman soldier towered over me and said something that I did not understand. It was the closest I had ever gotten to a Russian invader.

I had no idea what to do. I stared at her face. She looked just like the doll I had named Mujda (good news) -- yellow hair, white skin, and green eyes. The kind of face that Grandmother had warned me about. "You should be scared of them," she would say sternly. "They are the invaders who have occupied Afghanistan. Their hands are stained with red, with the blood ofour people. If an invader from Russia offers something to you, don't accept it, and don't go anywhere with them." But she had always talked about the men. She had never said anything about women.

The woman soldier came closer, thrusting the chocolate at me. I looked for the blood on her hand. I was afraid that if I touched it, my hand would have blood on it too. I thought that the blood would never come off me, however much I washed. But there wasn't any blood on her hand. I said no to her, but she just laughed. She said something to me, but I didn't understand.

She said something to the shopkeeper, and he spoke to me. "She says she likes you and she just wants you to accept this chocolate as a present from her. Why won't you accept it?"

I repeated what Grandmother had told me to say if a Russian ever spoke to me. "Well, if she is Russian, tell her to get out of my country--" Then I walked out into the street.

But the woman soldier followed me. I stopped, and she just stood in front of me, and I could see that she was crying. She pulled a handkerchief out of her pocket and pressed it to her eyes.

I had never seen an invader cry before. I felt sorry for her. I would have liked to accept her present, but at the same time I was afraid of what Grandmother would think of me. I wanted to say, "Please wait. I will go ask Grandmother if I can have her permission to accept this chocolate or if I have to say something else to you." But the words stuck in my throat, and I scurried away home.

I jumped over the tiny smelly stream that ran past our house and that we all used as our sewer, pushed open the blue metal door with the flaking paint, and crossed the yard that I called our garden, even though flowers never grew there.

I kicked off my shoes and rushed across the brightly colored carpets to the spot where I knew I would find Grandmother. She spent almost all her day in a corner of the main room of our house, wearing a small veil over her hair and sitting on the floor on a toshak, a kind of mattress big enough for five people to sit on that was placed on top of the carpets. Sometimes she would lean against the wall of dried mud.

She was surrounded by her taspeh prayer beads, which she had in her hand all day long, the spray for her asthma, and the medicine she took for her rheumatism. No one else I knew prayed for as long as Grandmother. I had seen other people pray for two minutes and then get up again, but Grandmother would spend half an hour on the special prayer mat that she usually kept rolled up against the wall. I would be wanting something from her or to go out for a walk with her, but I would have to wait and wait until she finished.

The copy of the Koran, which she let me touch only after I had washed my hands, was also within easy reach on a small wooden table, protected by a cloth. She was weak and she had trouble getting up, so she did everything in the same place, from peeling vegetables to praying to Allah five times a day. When she did work in the kitchen, she moved so slowly that it was a long time before meals were ready.

But she was taking her early-afternoon nap on the mattress, and I didn't dare to wake her up because she had difficulty sleeping. I sat in front of Grandmother and tried to keep quiet. The minutes ticked by, so slowly. I picked up her brown beads and played with them for a while. When Grandmother prayed, she would mutter something under her breath, and the beads would go click, click, click as she ran them through her fingers. I had once asked her what she was saying, and she told...

Zoya's Story. Copyright © by John Follain. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

John Follain has covered Italy and the Vatican as a correspondent for the Sunday Times since 1998. He is the author of the critically acclaimed titles A Dishonoured Society: The Sicilian Mafia's Threat to Europe, Jackal: The Secret Wars of Carlos the Jackal, and Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom written with Rita Cristofari and Zoya. He lives with his wife in Rome.

Rita Cristofari has worked as a press officer for the United Nations and Médecins Sans Frontières and for France 2 television.

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Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love the whole book read it in a week hardly put it down
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nisreen Sumrean More than 1 year ago
The book sounds like it would be good but it was horrible DONT WASTE YOUR TIME!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. I read it in around 24 hours and still wanted more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book provides great insight into the harsh realities that the women of Afghanistan face under militant Moslem rule. Zoya is a brave and dedicated worker struggling to improve conditions in her home country. Her story is a fascinating look at the continous struggles that engulf this country so often in the news. She tells her story simply and honestly. This book is hard to put down. I read most of it in one day.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a Peace Corps Volunteer during the years of King Zaher Shah my husband jokingly asked our Pustu teachers how to say, 'What is Reality' . Then the answer posed another question when we recognized that reality and truth were one and the same word... This book was the first of many I have read in recent years that revealed a reality of Afghan life with truth. The detail in the scenes Zoya wrote about took me back to a time when I could smell Kabul whenever I thought of walking the streets. Zoya's recollections gave me shivers of reality, not only from her recall, but of my own. Afghanistan was never an easy place to live in. While I lived In Jalallabad and Kabul for 2 years each during years when I taught English to women and girls in the Lycee and in the Jalallabad Civil Hospital I saw suffering. I knew several women gynecologists, a great friend was a Family Planning Doctor in Jalallabad. While I was generally the only woman on the street, I was also generally the only foreigner on the streets. The rank and file people of Jalallabad welcomed me into their shops and the bank. Yes, I was the only woman who could spend her husband's money, in the first joint banking account, but I also had to countersign my signature at my home a few days later when the bank's book was driven by bike to my house to have my husband agree that the last transaction was appropriate. Generally the rider came while I was home and my husband was at school. So I once again signed my name, 'wife mary' in the huge red ledger. I kept a diary of my two years of Peace Corps and wanted to write my own summary of life in Afghanistan but like Tamin Ansary several years have passed since I was last in Kabul. I wondered if truth as we knew it to be about Afghanistan and the Taliban was actually reality. And while I have not been back I have written with Mary MacMakin's husband a few times after reading the article on Mary in Vogue. Somehow I feel it is safe to say that Zoya has revealed a reality as harsh as anyone can imagine regarding the life in Afghanistan today. She has given us a truthful story with details of life as we many would never accept and yet many have had to accept life as it is in Kabul and in the provinces. Zoya and her parents and friends struggled as many before and after struggle with forces below the surface. I still pray for Afghanistan regualarly and I still yearn to return. I belive this look at Afghanistan provides a reality so true that the world might relook at how we can deal with Afghanistan. Perhaps we need to reopen the schools by rebuliding Habibia High School on Darlumann. Perhaps we need to return the doctors and nurses and teachers to their homes and jobs. Perhaps we need to withdraw our troops. Perhaps more than a military presence we need to establish a humanitarian presence once again. The Food For Work guys, the nurses / admin / tech tuberculosis teams and the English and math / science teachers of my day spoke the language. Somehow I believe the missing element in Afghanistan today includes a lack of common language. Afghans have always cared for their own defense, somewhat like in a 'hood', with too many guns. What they have appreciated from America was our willingness to help establish social systems in builiding roads and schools. Silence is a terrible disability. I am so pleased one Afghan women spoke up to share her reality.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book teaches readers a lot about Afghanistan. Zoya is a brave woman.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book really opened my eyes to the struggles in Afganistan. I am so hopeful that the many woman and children can come to terms of what their country has become and move out for their own safety.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book gives an eye opening and realistic perspective of the lives of women in Afghanstan and the dangers they face daily. Its simple format makes it a fast read.