Maria Toorpakai is a world-class squash player. That might be enough to write an interesting biography, but A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl Who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight is not your standard athlete’s story, as Toorpakai is Pashtun, born in the tribal area of Pakistan to (lucky her) enlightened parents but (very unlucky her) at a time when the Taliban mercilessly harassed and killed women who dared want to do something else than stay indoors, cook, clean, and bear children. With her parents’ help, she started her training dressed as a boy, but eventually had to escape to Canada. The story is hair-raising. Be warned: it regularly lapses into strange poetic ruminations that seem rather out-of-place for a young girl or teenager, but perhaps it’s just a cultural gap. Worth reading for the fantastic force of character of the author.
Tag Archives: Pakistan
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban is the memoir of the now-famous 16-year old who was shot by the Taliban for daring to go to school. Her story reads as heavily ghost-written, but does manage to give readers interesting glimpses into life in the Swat valley of Pakistan, far from Islamabad and very far from any kind of secular police power, and subject to extremist violence in the midst of both poverty and the physical beauty of the mountains. I also liked her recollections of having beaten a classmate for first place, or gotten a new uniform, which remind us that she is so young.
On the other hand, the careful retelling of political events in Pakistan and around the world, including before her birth, seem forced when seemingly told in the first person. And the details of her medical treatment after she was shot are forgettable. Still, a very interesting personal story.
The Wandering Falcon is a slim, spare, allusive story of a young man who lives in the tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in a dying world of incredible harshness and complex clan life. Don’t look for much kindness (although there is some, surely, to take in and raise an orphaned boy, even if only for a few years) or hope, but I found the story mesmerizing and intricately constructed.
The Convert starts as the extraordinary story of a New Yorker, raised as a secular Jew, who converted to Islam and moved to Pakistan to eventually become the second wife of a local man. But as the author, who is researching the archive of the New York public library, progresses through the letters and books written by the convert, she finds a more complicated reality including a woman who seemed disturbed from birth , who spent years in asylums in the U.S., whose psychiatrists seemed more intent on following their Freudian training than actually helping this particular patient at least, and whose treatment in Pakistan was even worse, as her civil rights as a woman were pretty much nonexistent there. The book is presented as an interesting view at extremism and Islamism but I thought it was more of an exploration of mental illness.
The Wish Maker tells the story of three generations of a Pakistani family, culminating in the grandson going off to Harvard (like the narrator) and focusing on his mother and his mother’s much younger female cousin on the background of Pakistan’s complicated politics of the 1990s. This could be a triumph, like A Golden Age, which uses a similar premise to tell the story of Bangladesh. Alas this book seems forced and rarely rises above a soap-opera plot like the ones the grandmother likes to watch on the newly installed dish. There’s the obligatory purdah-abused wife, the servants who know too much, the lure of consumer goods, and of course the doomed love stories. I would like to believe that all the exotic Pakistani details are authentic, but the one American detail I could check, the date of university admission email, was a month too late…