July 30, 2013
An American Bride in Kabul by Phyllis Chesler
Chesler had a very harrowing, unique experience. This memoir/history/social topics book really explores what she went through in Kabul and her reactions to some of the customs practiced in the Eastern world.
In the sixties, Chesler was young, in college, and in love with a man from Afghanistan. After marrying, he decides they will go back to Kabul, where his family is. She of course thinks this is an adventure and dreams about all the exploring and traveling they will do. She is quite surprised then when she is placed under "house arrest" and expected to follow the customs of the Afghani women. With her health failing and freedom taken, her only hope is to get home, but it is exceptionally difficult in a culture where only men can give permission. That was the first half of the book anyway. The second half described what she did when she was back in America and her thoughts on feminism and women in the Eastern world.
I don't understand a lot of Chesler's motives. Not with herself, she is completely frank about why she thinks she did things and why she does certain actions. But I don't understand her connection to her ex-husband. The way he treated her (regardless of it being a cultural thing) makes me wonder why she continued to have contact with him. Perhaps a form of Stockholm syndrome? I just can't imagine tying yourself to those memories. But I guess everyone is different. She tries to show him as a courageous person. But her words in this book make him out to be quite small minded and incapable of empathy. Almost a socio-path of sorts, or at the very least someone with narcissistic tendencies.
She says that she almost died in the two months that she was in Afghanistan and I can believe it. Illness can take a person quickly and it was horrifying to know that her husband's family appeared to be so callous and unconcerned as to her condition. I would have liked more description of Afghanistan itself though. While she does have some memoirs in this book, her descriptions of her actual experiences take up less room of the book than her musings on feminism, politics, women's subjects, and other topics do. It almost felt like I was more reading a history/women's studies book rather than a memoir. I wanted more of her personal experiences. It was informative, just not what I expected.
I'd probably give this book three and a half stars. I appreciated the inside look at life for a woman in Afghanistan during the 60's, but would have liked for that inside look to be a little more in depth and not so hurried. Chesler has led an interesting life, and you can definitely tell where her work in feminism was inspired from.
An American Bride in Kabul