Select one of the keywords
The Storyteller's Daughter    by Saira Shah order for
Storyteller's Daughter
by Saira Shah
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Saira Shah, author of The Storyteller's Daughter, has impressive credentials. Her Afghan father is Idries Shah, many of whose books on Sufism I've read and enjoyed - a storyteller in truth - and his family is descended from Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. In her English childhood, the author absorbed Islam as 'a tolerant philosophy', with emphasis on inner values rather than the literal letter of Islamic law.

Saira Shah visited Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, and is also known for her film, Beneath the Veil which showed the lives of Afghan women under the Taliban. In this book, the author shares her background with the reader and shows us a collision between the romanticized view of a storyteller's daughter in search of her roots, and the reality of Taliban controlled Afghanistan, where 'Nothing is too trivial for the scholars of Islamic law to prohibit.'

In 1986, the author launched a trip into Afghanistan from Peshawar, Pakistan and the Pushtun tribal area ('a Mecca for all that was illicit, immoral or downright deadly') over the mountain passes of the Hindu Kush to a mujahidin base and back again. She then settled as a free-lance journalist in Peshawar, where thanks to the Pakistani ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), 'the U.S. was nurturing a brand of extremist political Islam that, until now, had been almost unknown inside Afghanistan.'

Life in Peshawar included encounters with refugees, as well as further dangerous incursions into Afghanistan - to the region around Kandahar in 1988. There Shah and a colleague and friend learned of the sale of Stingers to Iran, a 'journalistic scoop'. Publication of the story made the author unwelcome in Peshawar, at the same time as educated Afghans in the town were being assassinated, including a close friend and father figure to the author.

Shah tells us 'I never found the mythical Afghanistan I spent so many years chasing, but the journey has taken me to places I could never have imagined'. Her account of this journey is informative, exciting, at times tragic, and enlivened throughout by a scattering of Afghan folktales, curses like 'May you live to pay taxes', and Sufist lore. The Storyteller's Daughter is totally fascinating.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Travel books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews