With the movement recently for more diverse books I decided I should pick up something complexly different from what I typically read and review. As cultural experiences go I don’t think I could get a lot more different from Siama Wahab the author of In My Father’s Country. She is an Afghan woman who fled to the USA during the Soviets attack on Afghanistan.
The beginning of In My Father’s Country is the best part. I really was drawn into the culture that she grew up in and as an American more than a little frustrated by it. But much of the story is about her trying to understand what it was about the culture that her father was willing to die for. And while I am never going to like aspects of their culture it is worth trying to see it from their point of view and this book does a reasonably good job of that.
As you near the middle of the book you get into the American war in Afghanistan. Siama worked as an interpreter and eventually as someone assigned to understand the cultural landscape of Afghanistan. And this, along with her heritage really does give her a unique perspective to see things from both sides. She can understand why the Americans act the way they do and why that can upset people who don’t understand it and explain what has happened in Afghanistan better than I would have expected.
But the closer you get to the end of this book the more the biggest problem in it appears. That problem is that it’s a book that is about a story that isn’t finished. There is some meandering in the middle, discussing relationships that really don’t go anywhere and minor personal conflicts that don’t really matter. But those tend to have at least have informative effects on the rest of the story. The problem is that the war isn’t over, and Siama isn’t done. I’m not even convinced she really answered the most basic question of the book yet, what did her father die for?
I read this book because I like diversity. I want to understand the world from points of view other than mine and for that purpose it largely succeeded. Where it fails is that, as a biography it can fall apart a bit towards the end of the book because, as many modern biographies it was written too early. The story isn’t done or even close to done yet. So, if you want to understand Afghanistan and what it’s like to be a woman there and how the military could do a better job with the hearts and mind part of the solution then this is great, but as a biography I would wait because Siama Wahab has a lot of work left to do before her story is finished. That said, she has convinced me that there is work worth doing.