8 Books By and About Afghan Women

Nadia Hashimi recommends memoirs, novels, and poetry that center the perspective of Afghans

Photo by Eric Draper.

In a time when Afghan women have been forgotten from the world’s consciousness and priorities, it feels more vital—either as an act of protest or desperation—to collect books that center them. 

Earlier in 2020, a U.S. envoy signed a “peace” deal with the Taliban to formalize the withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan. Although the liberation of Afghan women from their brutal and misogynistic regime had become a cause celebre and helped justify American military involvement, the four-page treaty did not once mention women. 

I sat in a medical school lecture hall in Brooklyn on the day al-Qaeda launched horrific attacks on American soil. In the weeks that followed, the smell of ash and shock and devastation seeping into my apartment, I watched the world train its eyes and military might on the country that was homeland to my parents, who left behind a Kabul that thrummed with music, wanderlust, ambition, and faith. Somehow, the same country is also homeland to the green-eyed refugee on the cover of National Geographic magazine, and the burqa-clad women cowering beneath the whips and rifles of Taliban militants.

I mined this complicated history to write Sparks Like Stars, a novel about a girl who survives a brutal coup in Kabul’s presidential palace (a product of Cold War tensions). By turns, the little girl finds herself lifted by Americans and taken to the United States where she becomes a physician. Her traumatic past resurfaces in the form of a patient sitting on an exam table. Unanswered questions and deep scars pull her back to her homeland where she must reckon with her identity, her pain, and the road to healing. Like so many Afghan women, she recognizes that only she can determine whether she sinks or soars. 

Here are a few books that not only center Afghan women as subjects, but also honor their contributions as authors:

Above Us the Milky Way by Fowzia Karimi

Karimi’s book, one that defies categorization, moves through the alphabet and time with breathtaking recollections and artwork. It is a rich and immersive experience for the eyes and the heart. 

Dancing in the Mosque by Homeira Qaderi 

Qaderi’s letters to her son are intimate reflections of her long walk across hot coals to be reunited with her son, and her life in defiance of the Taliban. Complex and raw, there is certainly more to come from this inspiration of a woman. 

The Favored Daughter by Fawzia Koofi

Born to a family long awaiting a son, Fawzia Koofi had been left to die under the hot sun. Not only did she survive, Koofi went on to become a leading parliamentarian in Afghanistan. Her steely composure and insistence on equality have won global recognition. 

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi 

Afghanistan might not seem like a likely setting for a YA love story but it’s in the gardens of hardship that love grows wildest. Atia Abawi takes on ethnic tensions and patriarchy in this gut-punch of a tale. 

Opium Nation by Fariba Nawa

Fariba Nawa traveled across Afghanistan, inserting herself into tight spaces and hair raising situations, to connect the dots of the opium trade. Warlords, child brides, and international pressures collide in this deeply personal work of journalism. 

Woman Among Warlords

A Woman Among Warlords by Malalai Joya

Joya’s memoir is sobering, illuminating, and brave. This is as much a story of a refugee turned leader as it is about a country blighted by corruption and flawed interventions.

The Storyteller's Daughter by Saira Shah

The Storyteller’s Daughter by Saira Shah

Conflict and extremism have made homecomings troubling for the Afghan diaspora. Shah’s personal account reflects the divide between the fairytale land her father had written of, and the scorched earth she encountered as a young war correspondent.

Load Poems Like Guns translated by Farzana Marie

Farzana Marie has done an elegant translation of the poetic works of eight women from Herat, an Afghan city with a resplendent literary tradition. Nadia Anjuman, one of the eight, wrote poems that seemed to foretell her brutal death at the hands of her husband. My forthcoming novel’s title was extracted from one of her works, a humble tribute to the brave legacy of Afghan women writers.

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