The book has nothing to qualify it
as a well-written work. It suffers from the translator’s
devil, meaning gaffes like "at the border we were speaking
Pakistani," the fact being that there is no language called
"Pakistani." The translator has used the French "ch"
sound to replace the "sh" sound. For example, the name
Shakila is written as Chakila. For those who are familiar with
Arabic and Persian names, the spelling is odd. But regardless of
the stylistic anomaly, there is a quick paced unfolding of
events, which keeps the reader’s interest alive. Incident
after incident is recounted of Taliban repression of women as
experienced directly or indirectly by the author.
that one evening four women in burqa appeared in a taxi. The one
who had brought them was Soraya’s school friend Nafisa. They
were in great agony, in urgent need of medical attention. With
difficulty the mother tells her daughters that these girls had
been gangraped by 15 men when Taliban had taken them hostage on
the plain of Shomali. Not only that they mutilated their
genitals. "Ripped them." Latifa’s mother and her
helper, Dr. Sima, spent the night sewing up the wounds. The
girls bore all this pain minus anesthesia. Witness to this
makeshift clandestine surgery, Latifa writes, "that night
saw the beginning of the most important clandestine surgery in
Kabul. The girls left in the morning…. To what fate? We never
saw them again."
secret school is one way of defying the Taliban diktat as well
as keeping busy. Latifa and her friend Farida decide to open one
such school to take up where "Mrs Fawzia" left off.
Fawzia was caught `in the act’ by Taliban. Someone had played
informant. She was beaten up, flung down the stairs, dragged by
the hair and jailed. Undaunted, she was still prepared to assist
the girls in their bold new venture. Other such acts of defiance
are like the intelligence they are able to gather from their
brother Wahid while he was in the military prison. Another
absurd scene is enacted during the marriage of Daoud with Marie.
Taliban regime allowed nothing, no mixed ceremony, men and women
separate, no suits, gowns, music, photography. The couple’s
friends could not help themselves and played music and proceeded
to photograph the exchange of rings. Just then Taliban burst on
the scene, beat up the amateur photographer and broke the
camcorder. Latifa notes:
slipped away like thieves, though the custom is that even the
departure from the wedding is a real ceremony. The whole thing
was a disaster."
At the end,
Latifa, her parents and another woman Diba, who also ran a
clandestine school, go to Paris at the invitation of Elle
magazine to talk about "the situation in Afghanistan."
The account of the highly perilous journey from Kabul to
Peshawar, Islamabad, Dubai and finally Paris reads like an
adventure. The three women speak at international fora about the
condition of women. "Mother, Diba and I have become
ambassadors for our poor country."
In the brief chapter "Afterword"
Latifa talks about how the "black turbans of the Taliban
are disappearing from our nightmares." Then she goes on to
write about the sounds of women’s laughter and the barbers’
razors which bring cheer to her heart. She is content with the
conditions of her exile, but wants to return and "hug my
country to myself." She repeats the charge levied by all
Afghanis on the rest of the world. How over the centuries they
have been given knives, guns, rifles, kalashnikovs to be played
with like children’s rattles. "For centuries the rhythm
of generations has been played out like a chess game, grand
masters succeeding each other, one after another, as if tribal
wars were a national sport." My Forbidden Face is a
book that should be read for anecdotes about the Taliban regime
seen through the eyes of the young. It does not have the power
of Diary of Anne Frank, a book which has become a classic
of its genre, written by a young Jewish girl hiding with her
family during the Nazi regime. The analysis of the collaborator
and expression of the translator has to an extent banished the
artlessness of youth. It should have been left in its raw form
in order for it. to have the desired impact.