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In the years before the communist coup and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan Veronica Doubleday set up home in the ancient city of Herat with her husband who was researching Central Asian music At first her only glimpses of women were as shadows faceless and voiceless Gradually however she formed friendships with three young mothers who welcomed her into their lives taught her their customs and music and shared the details of their everyday existence She witnessed their most personal moments the births and deaths of their children their marriages and celebrations religious holidays healings and rituals After the Soviet invasion in 1979 she lost touch with her friends but returned to Herat recently adding another chapter to this poignant story


10 thoughts on “Three Women of Herat A Memoir of Life Love and Friendship in Afghanistan

  1. says:

    This book gives a uniue insight into the lives loves and mindset of Afghan women in the days before either Soviet or Taliban tyranny Veronica Doubleday first travelled to Herat with her husband in 1973 on a year's musical research project and returned for a second year in 1976 with a shorter visit in between During that time she gradually became intimate with the women of three different households and was privileged to be welcomed amongst them as an honorary family member sharing their lives experiences day to day activities and of course their music The three women featured in this book are very different in character Mariam a musician's wife is the female head of her household pious traditional resourceful and kind 'Mother of Nebi' is ill and embittered keeping strict purdah following a bout of mental illness but also the disciple of a spiritual healer in which capacity she performs rituals and divinations Shirin is a 'minstrel woman' living on the verges of respectability she and her female relatives are employed to play sing and dance at public events such as weddings and religious festivals and are therefore viewed askance by those who observe the strict rules of purdah Doubleday draws a loving often heartbreaking portrait of each woman and her world a world soon to be blown apart by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 These were her dear friends whom she wept to leave at the end of her stay and planned to visit as often as she could Then came the Soviets and by the time she managed to make contact with the families again in 1985 everything had changed This book was first published in 1998 but updated in 2006 following a further post Taliban visit to Herat and a preface and postscript addedI found this a fascinating read; the style is informative and accessible as well as infused with tenderness for people and places the author has obviously come to love The uestions of purdah and sexual ineuality are addressed head on without recourse to Western prejudice for example Doubleday finds out firsthand how seductive the safety and anonymity of the veil can be and comes to understand why many women have fought to retain it; she also revels in the sense of sisterhood and female solidarity that a segregated society engenders whilst lamenting the imbalance of power and the restrictions placed by male relatives upon their wives sisters and daughters This is a book that every Western woman should read


  2. says:

    Very personal tale of women in a city in Afghanistan before it was all lost in war Enchanting


  3. says:

    Veronica Doubleday the author is the aunt of our friends here So this book is on all their shelves signed Now I've read it before some of her nephews have read it much to their shame I loved this book a fascinating topic and an impressive dive into life in the city of Herat Afghanistan for two years in the 1970s though the two years were not consecutive stays but with a gap in between Doubleday focuses on the lives of women secluded by purdah separated from men and much of the world which is an endless source of interest for me Each woman's life is very different depending on the amount of freedom her husband gives her He may restrict her ability to go out even to do grocery shopping or attend a wedding or visit a shrine but many women share a communal life with other women in ways unfathomable to Westerners Usually the core strength for the community in this case would family based not a community of your female friends Your family is the most important thing to you and your group would be made up of siblings aunts nieces grandmothers sisters in law etc and they share all burdens to care for each other's children and cook large feasts for the men of the family and neighbors visiting This tight knit community of women fascinates me; I remember reading similar stories in College an account from a woman who had immigrated from a conservative Islamic culture to a life in America and she said though of course she appreciated all the freedoms she now had she nonetheless found herself greatly missing the female comradery she had felt in her home country This book helps to demonstrate many of the cultural differences in great detail; the stress upon your family relationships to be honorable that what you do in public reflects upon your family and therefore it matters very much what you look like and how you behave Your marital relationships are not onces of close friendship like ours in the West The complete separation of the sexes means that when women decorate themselves in their best clothing and jewelery for a wedding they are not doing it for male attention but for female attention because men and women are kept in separate rooms or the woman cover themselves when men are near Men would not even see them looking their best so dressing up was not done in a sexual way but to show off your beauty and wealth to your fellow womanWonderful subject and I'm so envious and impressed by the opportunity the author had to live in Afghanistan for two years in the 1970s The writing style could've been a bit skilled with slightly shaping to the structure of the book but I loved this rich well of information so much


  4. says:

    I love memoirs that make you feel both that you know the author and that you would have liked being there and knowing the people she knew Doubleday paints a picture of life in Afghanistan long gone and yet in some ways still existing It's part brutal part uplifting and at the end I had to remind myself it was real Love and friendship are everywhere and some people will always been willing to welcome outsiders into their world An excellent book if you're curious about women living with in purduh but not the most cheerful book


  5. says:

    A fascinating look into the life of women in Islam


  6. says:

    Portrait of a world blown awayIt's probably trite by now to say that the past is a foreign country but if it's true anywhere in the world today it must be most of all in Afghanistan The Afghans managed to preserve their independence from colonial rule with only minimal interference from Great Britain a country that lost two wars with Afghanistan We might conclude that such freedom was a blessing but it meant that the country sailed well into the treacherous waters of the 20th century without much social or economic change with only a small educated class of people that could navigate the perils of the wars and competitions raging all around By the 1970s when most nations in the world had changed drastically from what they had been fifty years previously Afghanistan still had not transformed itself It was in this last moment of the Afghan past that Veronica Doubleday accompanied her husband to Herat a large city in the west of Afghanistan a historical capital and cultural center While her husband studied traditional music Doubleday studied first art then women's lives re entering the musical world with a female music teacher THREE WOMEN OF HERAT is a well written colorful memoir of that time a picture of an Afghan city and women's lives a picture that is now a shard of the Herati and Afghan past covered over with the debris of 40 years of utter destruction and violenceThough the author came from an educated English background she chose three simple women for her portraits a proper wife of a large musical family a strict Muslim's suppressed wife who took refuge in faith healing and trances and a female musician whose status in Herati society was dubious as she appeared in public Through the medium of describing her interactions with these three Doubleday presents a picture of Afghan society in the mid `70s emphasizing womens' lives She covers the whole marriage process childbirth and family relations holidays purdah the music world spirit possession healing and the evil eye Her relationship with the three women is always at the center There are a number of excellent color photographs and many drawings by the author as well A short epilogue underlines the disaster that befell the city and society she loved and we see the beginnings of fanaticism as a tool to fight foreign rule I think that for people interested in studying women in the Islamic world THREE WOMEN OF HERAT could be very useful Friedl's Women of Deh Koh Iran is anthropologically sophisticated and gives the women their own voice Fernea's A Street in Marrakech Morocco brings out the contrast between Western and Moroccan cultures better Perhaps the novels of Djebar and Fernissi are of an inside view than can be offered by a European But Doubleday's book combines well with all these others It is a beautiful portrait of a lost world all the poignant for what has befallen the Afghan people most recently


  7. says:

    I inherited this book from my uncle who passed away last year and who worked for UNICEF in various countries including Afghanistan so reading it gave me an experience of connection to himI thought it might be boring before I read it but it is fascinating and easy to read with short chapters and lots of pictures It recreates a vanished world of women’s lives in Herat Eastern Afghanistan in the 1970s One thing that stood out to me was how much of the traditional lifestyle reminded me of things in the Bible revealing just how long traditions lived on in the Middle East from the ancient to the modern world Some of the women’s lives were very restricted by their husbands; others found their own spheres of influence particularly in family circles and among other women It was also interesting to read how the author an Englishwoman learned to adapt to life in a very different culture from her ownIt must have been tragic when the traditional life of Herat ended so brutally at the end of the 1970s


  8. says:

    Very interesting thick description of women's culture among musicians in Herat in the 1970s


  9. says:

    If you are non Muslim reading this book my advice and warning is this book does not show the real image of Islam It shows the image of some Muslims but not all For example in the issue of male as leaders of a house the men in the memoir did not do as the uran rightly teaches us Heck this problem persists until today Some men just cannot get the idea of being superior to women out of their heads no matter from which religious and cultural background they come from


  10. says:

    Read a book with a number in the title 1150This wasn't terribleThe writing was good the content was interesting I just hated reading it Most likely due to the looming deadline to have it read