There are stories that make you feel happy and take you to a different zone and then there are stories that move you. Stories of real women, stories of their hardship, stories of how they live lives under repression yet all they want is to live. Dear Zari: The Secret Lives of the Women of Afghanistan, by Zarghuna Kargar is one such book that had moved me and compelled to think – why? Why do women have to undergo all this? It also made me feel thankful that I am in a free country and I have the liberty to be free.

I had read this book long time back, somewhere in 2012 and wanted to do a review then. But I have no idea why I had not done it till date. Not many are aware of the lives of general people specially women of Afghanistan.

Dear Zari is a part memoire where the author Zarghuna Kargar narrates her childhood and life as a Pashtun woman and her journey to becoming a radio presenter in UK. Her family fled to Pakistan to escape from the radical Taliban regime and then sought asylum in Britain. That’s where she got trained by BBC radio and produced and hosted a show called Afghan Women’s Hour which was aired in the UK and Afghanistan between 2005 and 2010. It was broadcasted in Dari and Pashtu, the native languages of Afghanistan. This was the show where many Afghan women dared to call and narrate about their lives, their hardships and how it’s almost a sin to be born a female in that land.

The book is also part anthology intertwined with the memoires of the author’s life. It has heart breaking tales of women who had called in the radio show. From being sold off to settle a family dispute to being subjected to extreme domestic abuse – life of women in the Afghan society is not easy.

zarghuna-kargar-dear-zari-authorZarghuna, narrates first-hand experience of the perils of living in such a society which gave more importance to honor of a family, valued a male more than a girl. She shares intimate details of her wedding night, to explain how deep rooted cultural pressures and taboos are.

God, please make sure I bleed; that’s the only wish I have. I don’t want money or a big house to live in – I just want this blood.

This was her only prayer on her wedding night. According to Afghan culture a white handkerchief is placed below the bride on her wedding night so that her bleeding can be kept as a ‘record’. It’s the proof of her virginity.

There are tales of little girls being given away to much older men to settle family dispute. And these in-laws find it as the right excuse for inhuman behavior and torture on such little girls.

Many Afghan women are carpet weavers who weave at home, since they are not allowed to go outside. Samira’s story narrates the shocking reality of how their babies are sedated with opium to allow the women to concentrate on their work.

How I felt after reading the book?

It is an emotionally draining book. Each of the thirteen stories about these hapless women oppressed under the regressive patriarchal and radical culture makes you feel sad and makes you feel the pain that they undergo each day. Their lives are that of prisoners – prisoners of society.

All I want to ask is why? Is it so bad to be a girl? Why can’t a girl live in that society? Why is it that she has to undergo such pain even in 2010-2012? I cannot even imagine what life would have been under the Taliban.

Not many stories can connect with me at that level.

My Rating

I will give it a big 5 out of 5. It’s a must read for me.

Book Details

Book Name – Dear Zari: The Secret Lives of the Women of Afghanistan

Author – Zarghuna Kargar

Paperback: 288 pages

Publisher: RHUK (3 May 2012)

Genre: Non Fiction

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0099542188

ISBN-13: 978-0099542186

It is also available on Kindle.

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10 Comments on Book Review – Dear Zari: The Secret Lives of the Women of Afghanistan, by Zarghuna Kargar

  1. Anamika Agnihotri
    October 3, 2016 at 11:54 am (2 years ago)

    The condition of women in Afghanistan is unimaginable. We talk about the perils of patriarchy in India. I have myself felt stifled by it. And, then when I heard the audiobook – A thousand splendid suns and now that I read this book review here, I realise it is still not as hard for us in India as compared to the Afghan women. Dear Zari would be a disturbing read for me.
    Anamika Agnihotri recently posted…My Style QuotientMy Profile

  2. Pratikshya
    October 3, 2016 at 12:04 pm (2 years ago)

    I am not much aware of the Afghan culture, the rituals.. but their lives are repressed.. and the experience mentioned here is sad and terrifying..
    Pratikshya recently posted…The Fifth MountainMy Profile

  3. Rajlakshmi
    October 3, 2016 at 5:09 pm (2 years ago)

    I can totally understand how emotionally draining the book must have been. The book – A thousand splendid suns did that to me. I actually like reading about stories based in those locations. Should add this in my list.
    Rajlakshmi recently posted…Zentangle – The Starry Eyed GirlMy Profile

  4. Diya
    October 3, 2016 at 11:46 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi Tina!
    I remember how miserable I was after reading The kite runner. It’s heart wrenching to even think that the story we are reading is someone’s reality.

  5. Ramya Rao
    October 4, 2016 at 2:30 am (2 years ago)

    Reminds of A thousand Splendid sons. Will pick this book up. Thanks for sharing Tina 🙂

  6. Deepali Adhikary
    February 13, 2017 at 10:45 am (2 years ago)

    That sounds like a wonderful book Tina. I am picking up that one for sure. I hope you have read Khaled Hosseini and Nadia Hashimi’s works. Both of them are Afghan writers and you can actually feel their heart bleed in their narration about the country and its people. Thanks for introducing me to this one.
    Deepali Adhikary recently posted…Bai-NamaMy Profile

    • tinabasu
      February 13, 2017 at 10:53 am (2 years ago)

      yes Deepali I have read them. It’s unfortunate that an entire nation (actually many more) is suffering because of tradition, patriarchy, militants, terrorists and what not.


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