LETTERS TO MY DAUGHTERS: A Memoir, By Fawzia Koofi – Book Review

Fawzia Koofi, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament and the first female Deputy Speaker of the country, has experienced much in her short life. In her book Letters to my Daughters, which was co-written by BBC journalist, Nadene Ghouri, Koofi recounts her life and struggles up until her rise in politics. This inspiring and emotional story reveals the soul of a woman in love with her tumultuous country.

Koofi’s rise to political power in Afghanistan was a long journey, and she often speaks of how she feels being a politician was something she was born to do. Koofi was born in Badakhshan, the northeastern most province in Afghanistan. Her father was a politician and her mother was the second, and most powerful, of her husband’s 7 wives. Koofi’s struggles began the day she was born, when she was left out in the sun beaten fields to die moments after her birth. Somehow, she survived, though she was marked with 3rd degree burns that were still visible into her adolescence. She was just a child when Mujahideen soldiers assassinated her father, forcing her family to flee their home soon after, for fear of being killed. Koofi went on to be the first woman in her family to receive an education, and attended university in Kabul to study medicine before her student life was cut short by the rise of the Taliban. After getting married and having 2 children, Koofi got involved with various NGO’s in hopes of improving the lives of Afghanistan’s people.

All throughout her life, tragedy seems to have followed Koofi like a shadow: her father was assassinated, her brother murdered, her mother died when Koofi was in her teens, and later, her beloved husband, Habid, died of TB that he contracted during his incarceration in a Taliban prison. In addition to this, her role in parliament has led to constant death threats and assassination attempts. It is a testament to her spirit, that in the face of such danger and emotional turmoil, Koofi’s faith, ambition and desire to improve her country has never wavered.

Letters to my Daughters hooked me instantly and while the writing in the book is simple and often repetitive, Koofi’s story is so endearing that it more than makes up for these faults. The structure of the book is touching, with each chapter broken up with a personal letter, usually addressed to her 2 young daughters, that imparts life lessons and kind words.

Throughout the book, Koofi brings up the issues close to her heart, in particular the expansion of women’s education and improved health care. She explains how these particularly areas took a hit when the Taliban rose to power. As noted several times in the book, Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. She bitterly remembers the cruelty of the rules the Taliban enforced that exacerbated this problem, mainly that the Taliban forbid women from educating themselves, or working as doctors, and then forbid male doctors from treating female patients. She notes that because of this cruel law, many more women died from childbirth, flu and otherwise easily treatable infections. For reasons such as this, Koofi has dedicated much of her energy into raising the worth of women in Afghan society.

Although it is not the most fluid of memoirs, Koofi presents her history and convictions with an unwavering passion, and her measured perspective of her country’s traditions and political history grants readers an intimate vision of Afghanistan.