A forgotten diary…Afghanistan during the Cold War…and a young American volunteer. Fifty years later, Jo Carter’s diary is a window to the past, and the source material for this narrative nonfiction book. Jo deploys to Baghlan with the Peace Corps in 1968, before the Russian invasion or the emergence of the Taliban. She lives with two co-workers in a home that is made of adobe, and shares her kitchen ceiling with a family of swallows. She teaches in Farsi, shops the bazaar, cooks on a bokhari, and hosts a Thanksgiving dinner for their Afghan neighbors. She dances, drinks, and parties with a group of German volunteers, works in a hospital with no running water, delivers babies, and adopts a juie puppy. Over a period of two years Jo never tires of the rugged beauty of Afghanistan, and comes to love her young Afghan students. Her story is a reminder of a time when our country was truly great; when generosity, sacrifice, and tolerance were part of our national vocabulary. "Little Women of Baghlan" was named as a finalist for Book of the Year by the Chicago Writers Association.
Author Susan Fox lives along the Kankakee River in Momence, IL--a small town of 3,000, not counting the duck population. "Little Women of Baghlan" is her first book, and was named as a finalist for Book of the Year in nonfiction by the Chicago Writers Association. Susan holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of St. Francis, Joliet, Illinois, a nursing degree, and a certificate in technical writing from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
When she is not writing, Susan divides her time between her six grandchildren, her husband Ken, and her clarinet.
There was so much potential in this book - it follows the experiences of a young American woman named Joanne Carter, who volunteers with the Peace Corps during the 1960s and winds up in Afghanistan. As a historical artifact, it's a gem - her detailed journals, letters to loved ones, and other mementos help the author, Susan Fox, piece together a picture of the mid-century Afghanistan that has long since disappeared under layers of war and suffering. But I couldn't help but wish that the work had been crafted by a trained historian. There's no attempt to ferret out layers of meaning in the texts available, little in the way of historical context that would help the reader understand the socio-political picture of Afghanistan during this era or the importance of the Cold War in Afghanistan's convoluted progress, and an overall lack of critical analysis. The biases of young Jo are just accepted by the author with nary an investigation into the ways in which Jo's own sheltered American upbringing likely colored her experiences and treatment in country. That said, it's an engaging read and provides some useful windows into seeing a progressive Afghanistan that occupied an important geographical and ideological place in the Soviet-American contests of the 20th century. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to those who know nothing about Afghanistan's history, because they're likely to walk away with western biases and perceptions firmly entrenched, and I know that experts in the field will be frustrated by the lack of analytical attention and discussion. Maybe best for university students studying Afghanistan and will have the opportunity to consider this piece and its assumptions within the larger context of Afghan history and literature. 2.5 stars
This is an absolutely fascinating insight into life in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion and the rise of the Taliban. Fox brilliantly retells the story of Jo, a Peace Corps volunteer in Afghanistan. By the end of the book, I felt that I personally knew the volunteers and Afghans of Baghlan. My only minor issue was that it was perhaps a bit too long, but that did not take away from the impact of the book.
I was fortunate enough to receive a free copy of this book. Thank you, Susan, for this! However, I have not let this influence me in my review.
'Little Women of Baghlan' tells the story of the period of just more than two years that Susan Fox's great friend, Jo Carter, spent in the United States Peace Corps.
I found this book to be interesting, informative and very enjoyable to read. Susan makes it a point not to be too political with her detailing of Jo's story, allowing it to be more a story from the heart of Jo's actual experiences with the people she met, especially during her major deployment to a remote village of Afghanistan, Baghlan.
Although Jo and the two friends she shared a house with in Baghlan (Nan and Mary) certainly experienced difficulties in initially becoming accepted by the locals, finding a house (it was a case of who you know rather than what you know) and commencing the nursing school, they soon felt a warmth for the people of Baghlan. You soon feel that although the community of Baghlan may have been lacking in material riches, this was more than made up for through the richness of their kind hearts and souls. As a reader, it is hard not to feel love and empathy for the young girls at the school and even for Jo and Nan as they attempted to educate them in nursing practices. In the end, it is possible that Jo learnt more from the girls about life than they did from her about nursing. There are also numerous stories about their encounters with other local Afghanis and the way in which they were eventually accepted as 'us' rather than 'them'.
As stated earlier, Susan tries to steer clear of much of the political matters of the time. However, she does contrast the 'westernised' culture with the Muslim Afghani culture. This helps the reader gain an understanding of some Muslim customs, something that is very much needed in today's somewhat broken society. We need to all accept that we are more similar to one another than different from one another and live with tolerance and acceptance rather than distance and fear.
Susan does express Jo's empathy for the lives of Afghani women though and, in particular, their status (or lack of) within marriage. However, she does balance this with expressing why certain customs take place and how they may not be as bad as they appear on the surface. For instance, re arranged marriages, a young Afghani girl about to be married expresses that her parents know her even better than she does herself and, out of love for her, would find a partner who loved her and suited her.
All in all, I found this book to be a wonderful read, written with great love and empathy for a beautiful, loving community. I am so glad that Jo Carter kept a diary every day as this enabled a wonderful story to be told. I am also glad that Susan turned it into a book which I enjoyed so much I truly did not want it to end.
3.5 stars. I enjoyed this book and thought it had some great insights. More than just the story of one woman's experience in Afghanistan, the narrative also raised some thoughtful questions about the differences between cultures. I was excited at the prospect of an epilogue, anxious to know how the women reacclimated to Western living, but I guess that was not meant to be part of the story. As a petty point, I did notice some typos in the text, which always annoys me, and I do think the story could have benefited from some editing--for instance, I could have done without the subplot about Jake.
I really liked this book, based on a Peace Corps nurse's diary. It reads like a novel, with nicely imagined scenes and dialogue. Great way to learn the historical/political situation in Afghanistan in 1968-1970. Also learned more about Islam, and how the oppression of women does not really come from that but from laws, etc. This one I read with 2 bookmarks--one in front, chapter by chapter, and one in back, in the notes.
I loved this book, it gave me an understanding of life in Afghanistan before Russia and the Taliban and the US, Australia and Allied countries got involved. I understand a lot more about the culture that is so anti female and really has always been. From a nursing perspective and as an RN I could truly relate to the professional dilemma these American women faced during their times dealing with the "health system" of this country.
This was by far one of the best books I have read & throughly enjoyed! I even have tears at the ending. I never really thought about the Peace Corps and what it entailed. What amazing work they do and what hardships they struggle through. This book made me realize that I expect and demand in my daily life, just because it has always been available.
I hope I can pay more attention to what is happening around me, now!