The Storyteller's Daughter
One Woman's Return to Her Lost Homeland
By Saira Shah
(Anchor, Paperback, 9781400031474, 272pp.)
Publication Date: October 12, 2004
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Imagine that a jewel-like garden overlooking Kabul is your ancestral home. Imagine a kitchen made fragrant with saffron strands and cardamom pods simmering in an authentic pilau. Now remember that you were born in London, your family in exile, and that you have never seen Afghanistan in peacetime.
These are but the starting points of Saira Shah’s memoir, by turns inevitably exotic and unavoidably heartbreaking, in which she explores her family’s history in and out of Afghanistan. As an accomplished journalist and documentarian–her film Beneath the Veil unflinchingly depicted for CNN viewers the humiliations forced on women under Taliban rule–Shah returned to her family’s homeland cloaked in the burqa to witness the pungent and shocking realities of Afghan life. As the daughter of the Sufi fabulist Idries Shah, primed by a lifetime of listening to her father’s stories, she eagerly sought out, from the mouths of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the rich and living myths that still sustain this battered culture of warriors. And she discovered that in Afghanistan all the storytellers have been men–until now.
Saira Shah lives in London and is a freelance journalist. She was born in Britain of an Afghan family, the daughter of Idries Shah, a writer of Sufi fables. She first visited Afghanistan at age twenty-one and worked there for three years as a freelance journalist, covering the guerilla war against the Soviet occupiers. Later, working for Britain’s Channel 4 News, she covered some of the world’s most troubled spots, including Algeria, Kosovo, and Kinshasa, as well as Baghdad and other parts of the Middle East. Her documentary Beneath the Veil was broadcast on CNN.
“Brilliant and moving.” –The New York Times Book Review
“The Storyteller’s Daughter is the work of a confident yet modest and self-effacing woman who is drawn to danger and whose greatest desire is to understand her ‘incompatible worlds of East and West.’ ” –The Washington Post Book World
“Absorbing, heartbreaking. . . . A book about myths and their double-edged power to inspire and delude. . . . Filled with memorable sounds, sights and insights.” –Los Angeles Times
“Both tender and haunting. . . . A stylized work of humility and heartbreaking devastation and dignity.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“Heartstopping. . . . Rich and startlingly eventful. . . . The Storyteller’s Daughter has the energy of a necessary catharsis.” –Vogue
“An extraordinary book by a remarkable young woman. . . . There is not likely to be a better one about Afghanistan.” –Doris Lessing
“Her courage takes the breath away.” –O: The Oprah Magazine
“Saira Shah takes us on an extraordinary journey from an English childhood, laced with Afghan myths handed down from her forebears, to the terrors and complexities of present-day Afghanistan. . . . At the end of it you are left with the truest sense of this magical country together with the recognition this exceptional English writer is still unmistakably Afghani.” –Jon Snow
“Invaluable. . . . A beautifully related journey to enlightenmment.” –Rocky Mountain News
“A remarkable and essential book about Afghanistan. . . . It is alive with detail, emotion, myth, fable, bleeding reality, and those laughs and freedoms which arise defiantly out of the darkest of times to assert the human spirit.” –Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, author of Imagining the New Britain
“A rare, much-needed glimpse into a still-closed society.” –Asian Week
“Deeply moving. . . . Here is a book written with resolute grace, much humour and underpinned by an unflinching spirit of enquiry.” –Jason Elliot, author of An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan