How THE KITE RUNNER Rescued My Selfhood
This is one of the things I love about literary organizations—you always meet fascinating people who are eager to tell their story and share fun stuff with you! We book nerds are a very generous (and chatty) bunch… So, at a recent Women’s National Book Association event in San Francisco, I ran into a lovely woman in the hallway who was talking about the Middle East and telling someone that she has a blog on Afghan culture and book clubs often use it as a reference for recipes, décor, etc. when they discuss anything by Khaled Hosseini. Of course, she had me at “book club”, and not being particularly shy, I jumped into the conversation. As she revealed her background to me, I just knew she’s have some very fun stuff to share with us on Book Club Cheerleader. Her name is Humaira Ghilzai and here’s her story…
My family immigrated to the United States after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. After losing everything—home, worth, and stability—my parents started their new life while clinging on to the past.
Unlike my parents, at age eleven, I embraced my American life.
I spent the majority of my youth assimilating while leaving behind the sad memories of bombs exploding, Russian soldiers marching into my city and the nightmarish two-day escape over the boarder to Pakistan.
Instead, I focused on learning flawless English, dressing hip and rarely speaking about my family’s plight. On rare occasions when I did open up to friends—they stared blankly at me and said, “Oh wow!”
By the time I was in my 20’s, these memories were pushed so far back in my subconscious that at times I questioned their legitimacy.
I still remember the day when my husband handed me The Kite Runner, long before the book was a best seller.
“Found this at the airport bookstore—it’s as if it was written about your family.”
It’s no coincidence that Khaled Hosseini captures the Afghan immigrant story so accurately; our families were some of the first Afghan immigrants to the Bay Area.
It wasn’t long before people started asking me about Afghanistan, Hazaras, Pashtuns and my immigrant story. I was invited to friends’ book clubs—somehow this book validated my experiences as “real” —it gave me the voice I needed to share my family’s experiences.
In the past ten years, in addition to being a re-born Afghan, I have reconnected with Afghanistan through my non-profit, Afghan Friends Network—we educate girls, boys and women.
It’s the reconnection with my cultural heritage and the inspirational people I have worked with that emboldened me to write my first novel—still in editing phase and seeking an agent.
Here is a bit about my book:
A charismatic warlord facilitates a meeting of two extraordinary women in a remote province of Afghanistan. Assia and Feroza’s unlikely meeting comes as each of their lives unravels.
The 33-year-old Assia is burdened by a successful career, motherhood, a doting American husband—while living in a lavish Victorian in San Francisco. The price of the “American Dream” is abandoning her Afghan heritage, leaving a void in her fairy tale life.
Feroza is not so lucky; her life is riddled with bullets, Taliban and an overbearing mother-in-law. But neither birthing 9 children nor an oppressive society stops her passion to be a game changer. But, it all comes at great cost.
Feroza and Assia begin to fill the voids in each other’s lives. Together they set off to change the lives of Afghan girls in one of the most conservative and Taliban riddled provinces of Afghanistan. This novel takes the reader through weddings, births, and humor in life’s setbacks with two women’s enduring friendship across distant cultures.
Would you read this book?
If your answer is yes, then help me pick a title. Naming a book is like naming a first born, it’s a daunting responsibility with no easy answers.
Here are the names I’ve been mulling over. Pick your favorite.
1. ART OF BEING AFGHAN: A novel
2. TWO WOMEN AND A WARLORD: A novel of Afghanistan and beyond
3. GRACE AND WILL: A novel of strong Afghan women at home and abroad
4. ENVY THE WARLORD: A novel of two Afghan women
Put your vote in the comment section of this post.
As a gift to you lovely book clubbers, I would like to share a few favorite Afghan dessert recipes from my blog Afghan Culture Unveiled. Perhaps these dishes will further sweeten your next book club gathering.
Humaira Ghilzai was born in Afghanistan and now lives in San Francisco. She reconnects to her roots by writing about Afghan women, Afghan culture and food of her homeland. In her blog, Afghan Culture Unveiled, she passionately shares the wonders of her beleaguered country through stories about her childhood in Afghanistan and her family’s experiences as immigrants. Humaira consults on Afghan culture, speaks about Afghanistan and is a social entrepreneur.
Of course, you don’t have to celebrate And The Mountains Echoed to try one of these great recipes—Nadia Hashimi’s The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is getting all kinds of positive press, and of course, eventually we can all discuss Humaira’s new book—whatever she chooses to title it. (Don’t forget to give us your two cents on that question.)
Then again, rice pudding is a favorite in my family—not needing any excuse—literary or otherwise…