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Reviewed by Vera Pereskokova
Saima Wahab was just a child when her father was taken away in broad daylight – likely sold out to the Soviets by his neighbors – never to return again. Although Saima and her two siblings had an amazing father figure in their Baba (grandfather), they grew up among flying bullets and mortar shells, in constant danger.
When Saima was fifteen, two uncles from Portland, Oregon sponsored her, her brother and sister, and three other cousins to come to the United States. Saima’s father, and later her grandfather, always told her that she was destined for something greater than the typical life of an Afghani woman, and she saw the move to the U.S. as a step towards that destiny.
In 2004, with a bachelor’s degree under her belt, Saima decided to return to Afghanistan as an interpreter, and to try and fulfill the destiny her father had in mind for her. He knew the risks but openly spoke out against the Soviet invasion and Saima thought that if she could help her people in some way, she could also understand his devotion to the country.
At the time of her arrival, Saima was the only college-educated female Pashto interpreter. She was also one of the very few females, American or Afghani, allowed into meetings with high ranking officials on both sides. Many interpreters claimed to know Pashto, but really spoke Farsi, only contributing to the misunderstandings between the U.S. soldiers and the Pashtun, who make up 40% of the population.
As a native of Afghanistan, Saima had the unique opportunity to bridge the gaps between the proud Pashtun and the soldiers who were often bewildered by their new surroundings. For example, few Americans on the ground knew of Pashtunwali, a way of life that extends to how Afghans treat their guests, their women and each other. Saima believed that winning the hearts of Afghans was just as important as military power, and worked tirelessly to improve the relations between the two groups.
Even as an interpreter, Saima was always risking her life and I applaud her courage, and her willingness to share her experiences in In My Father’s Country. I think she started her journey hoping to learn more about her own roots but the resulting book will bring a greater understanding of Afghanistan to many readers.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Crown. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.