An American Bride in Kabul

An American Bride in Kabul

by Phyllis Chesler

Overview: Engrossing...Chesler adroitly blends her personal narrative with a riveting account of Afghanistan's troubled history, the ongoing Islamic/Islamist terrorism against Muslim civilians and the West, and the continuing struggle and courage of Afghan feminists.

Deanna Boe (11/05/18): This is a true story which took place in 1961. A young, eighteen year old Jewish girl from the United States fell in love with a Muslim man from Afghanistan. She came from a strict Jewish family that had fled Russia during their Revolution. Phyllis Chesler found Abdul-Kareem to be as handsome and as exciting as Rita Haywarth’s lover Agha Khan. She felt her life was going to be a life of travel, living in exciting places, including a palace type of home in Afghanistan with servants to make her life easy. What is amazing is the fact Phyllis is an extremely intelligent lady and you wonder how she could have so easily jumped at the chance to move to a country in 1961 that was still living closer to the Dark Ages then to the modern world.

It didn’t take Phyllis long to realize she might have made a mistake when she arrived in Kabul and her American passport was taken from her, never to be returned. From there life only went down hill. Phyllis discovered that they would be living in this promised huge house with her husband’s oldest brother, his wife and children. This was in a compound with other family members, surrounded by a tall wall. In fact, the “first” wife (her husband’s mother) was now living in a small dwelling that had been the servants, located away from the huge, main house. Ironically this house had originally been her’s. Abdul-Kareem’s mother’s status was demoted when his father had taken a second and then a third wife. Phyllis became virtually a prisoner within these walls. She always had to have a family member with her whenever she went out to do any type of shopping or sightseeing. A Muslim man can easily divorce his wife but it is extremely difficult for a woman to divorce her husband. What was Phyllis to do? How was she able to escape without a passport? The person who comes to her rescue is a surprise.

This is the first part of the book. The second part gives the reader more of the history of Afghanistan, including how life was in Afghanistan under the Soviets. The book also tells what Phyllis went on to accomplish with her life: she earned a Doctorate Degree, became a writer, and an advocate for women’s rights. Phyllis led a very full life, and interesting enough, stayed in touch with her ex-husband and his wife and children.

One interesting point Phyllis relates has to do with Afghanistan and how they view their life. The Western world does not realize that war has been happening forever in Afghanistan, it is a permanent way of life. The Afghan tribes and Afghan warlords will never stop trying to destroy each other, even if it destroys their population and all that is around them. How could we, the United States, jump into this situation after we had observed the Russians and how they had happily disengaged themselves from that quagmire? We have been involved in Afghanistan almost twice as long as the Russians and there is no end in sight. For those of you who know little or nothing about the Middle East, you might find this book of interest. I lived in Iran two years, and the Middle East continues to worry and fascinate me.
Rating: ***

Debbie Weiss (12/23/13): From the title of the book, I thought the majority of the material would be anecdotes of the author's stay in Afghanistan after she married her college sweetheart, an international student from that country. Instead, there was just a short narrative of Phyllis Chestler's brief stay in Afghanistan as the wife of an Afghani. The experience was horrible for the author. She basically became a prisoner in the family compound, not able to move about on her own free will. She was able to escape back to the United States and eventually divorce her husband. The rest of the book was academic in nature, talking about the history of Afghanistan and the plight of women throughout the ages throughout the world. While I did learn from the discourse, I really would have preferred reading more about the experience of the author while she was a young bride in the foreign land.
Rating: ***

Gail Reid (11/05/13): Phyllis Chesler tells her own story of how more than 50 years before when she was a young Jewish college student in New York, she fell in love with and married a worldly young man from Afghanistan. All the sophistication and culture that appealed to her quickly vanished when they moved to Kabul. Backward in their treatment of women, her husband's family quickly relegated her to the purdah - a separate living section for the women. Denied her freedom to leave the compound without the accompaniment of male relatives and deprived of medical treatment, she escapes to New York through the intervention of her husband's father.

The author becomes an academic and a psychotherapist and belongs to the "second wave" of American feminists. Propelled by her early experiences in Kabul, she, nonetheless, remains in touch with her Afghan friends and former relatives as she works to improve the plight of women worldwide.

I would have enjoyed the book more if there were more memoir and less of a history lesson on Afghanistan during the last few decades. However, I learned a lot about the impact of the Soviet invasion which her former relatives escaped and made their way to New York as well as damage done by the Taliban. ***+
Rating: ***+

Judy Stanton (10/31/13): Decades before Afghanistan was in the news daily, a young American Jewish girl falls for an Afghani Muslim she meets in college, marries and sets off on an adventure to his homeland. She quickly experiences all of the issues (and more) that we have come to learn are faced by women living in that repressive culture. Chesler's horrific ,but short-lived, Afghan life propels her to a life-long study of the history of the country, through books and interviews, which she shares in an almost thesis-style, albeit choppy, dissertation in this book. While her story is interesting, as is the history of the culture, it feels like she is presenting an assortment of facts, observations and opinions rather than a good, compelling story of an American Bride in Kabul.
Rating: ***

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