I just finished reading The Favored Daughter: One Woman’s Fight to Lead Afghanistan Into the Future by Fawzia Koofi. It was a fascinating glimpse into the life of a Middle Eastern woman and a reminder of how quickly a dictatorship can destroy people’s lives, especially women.
Several years ago, I also read Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Laden, and it was also spellbinding. The books are both from the perspective of educated women from the Middle East. I love getting their perspective because that experience is so vastly different than my own and also because it is represented so infrequently in literature. On one hand, these women are very similar to me in that we are all highly educated. On the other hand, I have much more relative freedom here in the US than many women in the Middle East. A highly educated woman living in an incredibly conservative patriarchal society is fascinating.
What I loved most was Koofi’s description of her childhood, growing up in the remote mountains of Afghanistan to a politician father in a polygamous family. It illustrated the bygone days when rampant spousal abuse and deadly sexism prevailed. The book provides a lens to a culture that is very different from my own. The passages about her childhood and early womanhood are lovely and interesting. It seemed that the love and unusual attention her mother gave her, even though she was “only” a girl, inspired her to a different life than one lived by most women in Afghanistan.
It is no spoiler than Koofi goes on to have a political career and that is where the book falters a bit. The last few chapters become a bit repetitive and have a distinctly political. The book ends in a tone that is political and not always in a good way. Not at that her points aren’t valid. They are! And, she is incredibly inspiring and her work as one of the few female politicians is no doubt incredibly important. All of that is gripping and exciting—but it’s not as exciting as the personal view she takes of her life in the first two-thirds of the book. By the end, she sounds like a politician who is on the campaign trail—a politician who might one day become the president of Afghanistan.