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The New York Times "Sunday Book Review" about "A Woman Among Warlords"

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Joya’s life has been singular and heroic.

By Marc Tracy, The New York Times, December 10, 2009

A Woman Among Warlords by Malalai Joya

The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice.
By Malalai Joya with Derrick O’Keefe.
Scribner, $25.

In this memoir, Joya, an Afghan activist and politician, bears witness to the horrific experience known as “being female in Afghanistan.” She conveys the indignity of the forced wearing of the burqa with a power that distant and abstract condemnation can never muster: “You have no peripheral vision because of the netting in front of your eyes,” she relates. “And it’s hot and suffocating under there.” Joya’s life has been singular and heroic: a covert educator of young girls in the western city of Herat, she was elected at 25 to the constitutional loya jirga of 2003. There, she gave a rabble-rousing speech — which you can and should watch on YouTube — branding the post-Taliban Afghanistan’s higher-ups, many of whom were present in the packed Kabul room, as “criminals.”

Joya is ill-inclined to look upon the American intervention as the Good War, instead maintaining, “We are caught between two enemies — the Taliban on one side and the U.S./NATO forces and their warlord friends on the other.” Joya’s arguments, which have earned the plaudits of people like Noam Chomsky, are sometimes extreme, simplistic and misguided, but they are rarely without a grain of truth, and they have also gained credence among her countrymen recently. Still, her tendency to choose rageful denunciation over calm observation is immensely frustrating. Anyone can fulminate; Joya can testify. And nothing could be more potent than a faithful recitation of her remarkable life.