Author: Siara Shah.
The following review was contributed by: Leila Dewji
Anyone with an interest in postcolonial literature will be all too familiar with the frequent formula of romantic nostalgic pining for a land that is no longer theirs, or in the case of Rushdie a land and life from which he has been banished. From their outside positions as westerners they try to go back into a culture clouded by fantastical childhood memories and hopeful ideals.
This is the story of a girl from a terribly nice village in rural middle class England whose adventure takes her to the front line, dodging Taliban shells!. At the beginning of the book she reflects on her childhood and the poetry, fairy tales and folklore her father would tell her about Afghanistan. At this point you would be forgiven for thinking that she is going to be another sentimental cliché, but read on…
I have not known another writer to so perfectly show the ‘ins and outs’ of their personal struggle with cultural identity. She begins enchanted by the mystical Afghanistan, and indeed her enchantment is contagious as she recreates the idyllic world for her readers. She talks of her lineage and glorious family past, but even at this early stage she can’t quite stomach the extreme mentality of her tribe of ferocious warlords.
As she develops from rebellious adventurous teenager to maturity her relationship with Afghanistan changes. She investigates the myths for herself in has to deal with disappointment so often inevitable when chasing a dream. She gradually let’s go of the imaginary world that legend and her father had fabricated and sees poverty and war for what it is. As a descendent of the Majahudin tribe, she was ingrained with the belief that they are noble warriors, proud but good people, yet during her time in Afghanistan she finds them just as guilty of corruption as any other Afghani people.
This process of rejecting what she desperately wants to believe in, is what really holds the book together and makes it such an insightful read. She is well educated and gives an informed understanding of the Taliban, tracing them back to their origins and explaining how their power grew. She provides a thought provoking background to terrorism, revealing the influences and cultural beliefs that enable such behaviour to flourish. Siara Shah is the journalist responsible for the documentaries ‘Beneath The Veil’ and ‘The Unholy War’ which were showed again and again in the wake of 9/11. Her journalistic tone makes reading about this heaving topics easy and inviting.