Upon her birth, Fawzia Koofi was left in the sun to die. She was her father's 19th child -- just another daughter born to a mother who was no longer the most cherished of his seven wives, and born into an Afghanistan where a once distinguished culture was crumbling, and where a daughter was considered less valuable than a goat. But death does not claim Koofi; her contrite mother nurtures her, and she makes the long journey from unwanted infant, to adored daughter, to key Parliament member.
Koofi relates a life as ragged with tragedy as the mountains of her beloved home province of Badakshan. Her father is executed by the mujahideen, with which her brothers are later associated. She flees for her life, again and again. She must abandon her studies and later must forsake her role as a teacher. She buries her accomplished husband, whose death is hastened by incarcerations stemming from his association with her political family. Yet even as the brutal regime of the Taliban encroaches on everything she holds dear, she continues to believe in a future of peace.
The memoir's structure promises a moving rhythm between recollections that set her life in the context of the seeping force of the Taliban, with letters to her daughters Shuhra and Shaharzad. Yet, instead of a work woven as rich as a Persian tapestry, we are given flat language that never succeeds in elevating the memoir from more than a thin recitation of events. Dialogue presented verbatim calls into question the veracity of the tale, for how is it possible for a child under age 4 to have such precise recall? Whole phrases are clumsily repeated within the same page. Clichés pepper the narrative.
With better crafting, revelations could have been made keen, bringing us closer to this fascinating woman; then we would have experienced fully the welcome taste of raisins and cheese offered by a stranger, or the scent of onions blending with forgiveness found in her sister-in-law's smile. We would have comprehended how her insistence to wear her mother's green silk burqa signals her core dissidence and determination, and how the turquoise glint of the river cutting through Faizabad represents the distillation of her longing for a home restored.
Still, because Koofi is currently a leading candidate for Afghanistan's presidential elections in 2014 -- a breathtaking accomplishment for a woman in a country where the resurgence of the Taliban's version of Islamic law and its horrific treatment of women still threatens -- this memoir yields important background about a part of the world that we should not forget or dismiss.
Susan Thurston is a writer and poet in St. Paul. She is at www.susanthurstonwrites.com.