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By Sola Mahfouz and Malaina Kapoor


Reviewed by Pennell Paugh

October 18,2023 (San Diego) -- Sola Mahfouz, who now lives in the U.S., recounts her life story to Malaina Kapoor, a writer and producer of the nationally syndicated public affairs radio program, In Deep.

The city of Kandahar, where Mahfouz’s family lived, became the site for battles between the Taliban and the government. Born in 1996, just two years after the Taliban’s rise in power, Mahfouz shares how Afghanistan’s women lived in a state of oppression.

The book begins:

I began to grow up the day my mother warned me to stop laughing. She was terrified that even my momentary giggle could bring a strange man to our door, ready to yell, kidnap, or even kill to silence the sounds of a young woman. Don’t dance outside your room, she’d warn me. Don’t sing in the hallways, where the sound can carry. I was eleven years old.

Women were forced to wear burqas and could not walk alone in public. For years, Mahfouz did not leave her family’s compound. Her only outdoor exposure was their courtyard. As a youngster, Mahfouz ran to school a few blocks away, terrified of being bombed or shot. As a result, she only attended school up to third grade.

Preparing for her role as a prospective wife before she was in her teens, she learned that the men in her household ruled over the women. If a brother demanded something of her, she did as told, no matter the time of day.

Mahfouz’s response to performing chores and cooking was to become thoroughly bored. An older brother teased her about having no need for education since she would only become a wife. This instilled her to rebel.

A bright light in her story, Mahfouz’s parents supported her desire to become educated; however, her mother constantly worried that if Mahfouz did not marry, no one would take care of her. A woman was not permitted to work. Without a husband, a woman could not fend for herself in Afghanistan.

Mahfouz fought against marrying; refusing even to meet prospective men. Instead, she spent her time teaching herself through online classes at Khan Academy, which was funded by Bill Gates. At first, she struggled on her own to learn English. Once she got hooked on learning, she taught herself math up to calculus. She became deeply interested in philosophy. When eighteen, she faced the reality that she had to leave her country to have the freedom to support herself.

To learn how to converse in English, Mahfouz made a friendship with an American girl, Emily, while online. They spoke via Skype daily. Lacking a high school diploma, Mahfouz needed to take standard exams which would enable her to gain recognition for all her studying. The obstacles were relentless, but her zeal to be free made her daring. Even so, she was turned down an opportunity to take the SAT exam by a bureaucrat.

Though often overcome with despair, Mahfouz was nevertheless persistent. Emily found her a way to come to the USA as a refuge. Initially she continued to teach herself via online courses until she was accepted into an exciting college. She became stimulated and welcomed by physicists. She joined graduate students who developed quantum physics research studies. Mahfouz not only developed her own study; her work was published.

The book ends when the United States, under President Joe Biden, withdrew forces from Afghanistan. The eventual war for power, then success and tyranny by the Taliban drove Mahfouz’s parents to leave—ironically only to suffer an accident with a tragic outcome.

Mahfouz’s story is deeply moving. Despite being sheltered in her youth, her bravery is astounding. This book is deeply moving. Though, like most women, I have been discriminated against as I grew up in America, but this story gives my struggles perspective. It is a must-read.


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