Torn Between Two Cultures: An Afghan-American Woman Speaks Out

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Maryam Qudrat Aseel is an Afghan-American woman born in the U.S. to first generation Afghan immigrants. In "Torn Between Two Cultures," she weaves her family's and her own personal stories into recent American and Afghan politics and history. Her book describes her upbringing in America as a woman in a modern Afghan family with traditional values. She explores how those values and her own desire to be "American" came into conflict and led to an identity crisis that was only resolved as she rediscovered her religious and cultural roots, became increasingly active in the Afghan and Muslim communities, and resolved to bridge the gap between her two cultures. As an Afghan-American woman, Maryam offers a unique perspective on East and West conflicts, and in this book and in her life she is working to bring about understanding and resolution. "Torn Between Two Cultures" is a paradigm for the larger problem of the growing gap of understanding between the Islamic world and the west.

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This book, “Torn Between Two Cultures,” helped me to open my eyes to see the real Islam culture and made me realize that I was wrong about them. In this book, Maryam Qudrat Aseel tells her stories and experiences as an Afghan-American born in America in LA. The author’s parents were smart and educated college students in Afghanistan. Her mom was given a chance to study abroad in America and so decided to move to America. She invited her families from Afghanistan and got married with her lover, the author’s dad, and the author was born in the happy and peaceful family. The author describes the trip to Afghanistan with her mom as the ‘dark summer’ because of bomb attack in Kabul. As she grew up in America with Afghan identity, she realized how she was different from others and also learned the truth of Islam. She also tells us her life was affected after September 11 and tries to let people know the real face of Afghanistan and Islam which was covered with a wrong mask due to Taliban.
My prejudice on Islam people, especially women was like this: they have to obey and listen to men in their family, they do not have rights to speak out, and they are forced to give up their dreams for their family. However, this book tells that this is not true. The author explains how Islam women are treated with respect, and they do get higher education to achieve their goals. I would not be able to see the truth of Islam and the country, Afghanistan without this book. I very appreciate that my professor introduced me this great book.

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I found this book to be an intelligent and thoughtful meditation on the Afghan-American experience. By weaving her own story as an American-born daughter of Afghan parents with stories of those who came to the U.S. during the wars in Afghanistan, the author shows us the great diversity of a people that are too often pigeonholed into a limited identity. When she describes (with candor and humor) her coming of age in the early 1990s, it is very interesting to see how perceptions of Muslims and Middle Easterners during the first Gulf War compare with perceptions now. The author also discusses in depth her views on the difference between Islam as the Koran presents it, as it is practiced by Muslims, and as it is viewed by those unfamiliar with the religion. It was heartening to read how her process of coming to her own understanding of Islam helped her see through many of the stereotypes that even she initially held about her religion and people, and how it gave her the strength and confidence to participate in practical solutions: becoming involved in community activism and working as an educator. Altogether, I thought this book did an excellent job at taking a very complex set of problems and sorting them out in an accessible, objective, and even-handed way. The author's project to encourage meaningful communication between the east and west is commendable.  

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