4 out of 5 stars

The publisher provided a copy of this free of charge in return for an honest review.

In 1973 Afghanistan was a totally different country from the broken one that we see today. They had a monarch who ruled from his palace in Kabul, a strongly Muslim country, but they still had their own culture and unlike today with the grim Taliban overlords, there was still a strong musical culture.
It was in this rich culture that Veronica Doubleday arrived with her husband. He was a scholar, and whilst there she was determined to learn about the country from a woman’s perspective. Using her skills as a musician, she made friends with a number of women musicians and this book is about three of them who she formed a particularly strong bond with., Mariam, Mother of Nebi and Shirin.

Each of these three women has a chapter dedicated to them. In each chapter she describes the time spent with each of them, drinking tea, helping with mundane tasks such as picking through rice and growing a strong friendship with each of them. She began to understand their culture more from the conversations she had with them. She learns how to play their music and joins one of the bands as a musician to play at weddings and other events.

I really liked this. It is a fascinating insight into the lives of three women musicians in Afghanistan in the 1970s as well as a historical record of the rich culture that used to exist in these central Asian countries. Doubleday is a sensitive writer, not only about the culture she and her husband have chosen to live in but also about all the people that they write about she encounters. Her unique position as a Western woman meant that she not only had access to most events that her husband was involved in but she could go where no man was permitted. This gave her unparalleled access to a way of life that no male writer would see. Her account of the lives of these three women was unprecedented. Well worth reading.

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