Thursday 8 May 2008

Book Review: Saira Shah – The Storyteller’s Daughter

Part memoir, part modern history lesson, this book also has a series of short fables running through it, making the book very hard to categorise. The book begins with the author looking back to her childhood and her father’s stories about Afghanistan and Afghaniyat (Afghan-ness) and pondering over her identity as a British born half-Pukhtun child of a Sayyid family.

It progresses from there to Shah’s sojourn in Peshawar in Pakistan where she begins to reconnect with her roots and is attracted to the adventure of the Mujahideen’s fight against the Soviet army in the 1980’s. We are taken on her journey from inquisitive young woman trying her luck at reporting to fully-fledged war journalist. Part of this journey is the way events begin by creating a sense of adventure and over time elicit nothing but sheer horror at the consequences of war.

The book describes a level of absolute poverty and suffering which is hard to comprehend and the author brings it home in vivid detail. People who really have reached the further-most levels of human endurance and are still struggling to carry on.

On the other hand, the book does suggest that the only true, valid and moderate Islam is Sufi Islam (Shah’s father was Idries Shah, author and teacher in the Sufi tradition) - which I have nothing against, but anything else seems to be portrayed as over-zealous.

The whole of The Storyteller’s Daughter is interspersed with stories from Sheikh Sadi of Shiraz’s Gulistan and Jalaludin Rumi’s Masnavi which at times are apt and insightful, at times give the book a dreamy quality and at times get in the way of the story. On a more real level the book offers an incredible insight into the struggles for power within Afghanistan over the last forty year’s and it certainly demystified many of the events and issues for me.


  1. Anonymous16 June, 2008

    Assalam Alaikum Umm Salihah,

    I hopped over to your blog as soon as I read your comment! I will go and get the book ASAP...I'm on a reading mission... Now I have to read your other reviews as well...that'll keep me busy perusing for a while, InshaAllah.

  2. Anonymous19 June, 2008

    Also read this book, i found it a good read although at some points her writing style was quite frustrating, sometimes as u said it gave an excellent insight into what was going on in afghanistan but at others her points were very vague, i felt myself wanting to know more about characters and places she only briefly mentions which i would have thought were quite important. as a whole though the book was a good read and gave it a real insight of west meets east.