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"An American Bride in Kabul," by Phyllis Chesler, won the National Jewish Book Award for best memoir of 2013 by the Jewish Book Council

Chesler thought she was “uniting Yitzack and Ishmael.”

The story of Chesler’s storybook romance and marriage evaporates quickly into the nightmare of her life as a captive in an Afghani harem.

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The minute the couple entered Afghani airspace, everything changed. Her American passport was taken – she never saw it again. Her husband was immobilized,  held under the thumb of his father. His father had three wives, and many sons from them.  Chesler’s husband was from the first, one who had been tossed aside. And her husband was not even the first born son.

Chesler watched her husband competing for flimsy promises of a brilliant future, settling, at least temporarily, for scraps. And he had not endeared himself to the family by marrying an American. Especially one who was Jewish (“Yahud!” His mother screamed at her.) And not even a blond!  No one could understand it, and she could not understand them. Not even her husband, who was no longer attentive or even interested in her welfare. She was alone.

Everyone who thinks they know what it means to live in a different culture, and everyone who knows they don’t know, needs to read this book.

Chesler has always been a lyrical writer. But in this book – sections of which could be considered a travelogue with its evocation of the tastes and smells and sounds of the Afghan market place – you can really see in your mind’s eye the desperate clinging to misshapen dignity which drives deposed first wives to relish abusing their servants.

And your mind’s eye will also be repelled, but feel compelled to watch the many sons fawning over the patriarch in ways that should make their lovers jealous: every word, every look, every flare of the nostril is registered, analyzed, memorized and cataloged. Each hopes to be the favored one. Each is dismissed with disdain. Each comes back eagerly when called.

Yet Chesler, ever the wise one, the survivor, escaped. She made it out barely alive, but survive she did.  The later chapters of her life, of her book, will shock you because you will think you really know her now.  But you still don’t.  Just wait until you find out what happens in 1979 (the year the Soviets invaded Afghanistan) and how Chesler responded.

She is a bigger person than we ever will be. She is a humanist.  She is a feminist.  She is a person of the world. And luckily, for all of us, she is a prolific writer.

It will be to everyone’s benefit if professors across the world assign “An American Bride in Kabul.”  If they don’t, it won’t be because they have something that provides a better Western glimpse into – not the romanticized version – a still exotic but soon to be at our doorstep lifestyle such as exists in Afghanistan.  No. It will be either because they haven’t yet read it, or because they are too uncomfortable having their students meet the truth.

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Lori Lowenthal Marcus is a contributor to the JewishPress.com. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com

12 COMMENTS

  1. People like Ms. Chesler who have been into the very heart of Muslim darkness, and escaped intact to tell of what they've seen, are crucial witnesses to the dangerous and deceptive forces at work in the world. It's a wonderful thing that the National Jewish Book Award would be given to such a person, for such a report; and a very valuable thing indeed for the Jewish Press to write about it. I only hope the world will pay attention.

  2. Chesler is a naive and misguided liberal about feminism, about intermarriage, and about Arab culture. Sounds like she still is, as is Ms. Marcus. To call someone a "feminist and a humanist" is not a compliment. And, by the way, Ms. Chesler: your mother was right!

  3. This story typifies the role that Liberal Feminist Jews seem to revel in. The abandonment of Judaism and intermarriage as a means to uplift ioneself. How can anyone in their right mind especially one who is left leaning and Jewish from Brooklyn NY even consider marrying a Muslim from anywhere be considered sane. Someone once said that "Liberalism is like Cancer", and I agree. Stories like this one is based on pure nonsense, and anyone who reads it, must have his/her head examined.

  4. I really like the comment by Louie V. Yadua, "People like Ms. Chesler who have been into the very heart of Muslim darkness, and escaped intact to tell of what they've seen, are crucial witnesses to the dangerous and deceptive forces at work in the world. It's a wonderful thing that the National Jewish Book Award would be given to such a person, for such a report; and a very valuable thing indeed for the Jewish Press to write about it. I only hope the world will pay attention." It is the only comment thus far which is to the point of the article.

    Though I do not adhere to the lack of judgement behind the misguided adventure, nor deem it necessary, personally, to read the book to become convince of what I have known for 40 years, I can see the value of chronicling of this exploit that others may avoid the pitfalls (obvious to the enlightened) encountered here.

  5. SO….SHE IS AN IDIOT AND BEING JEWISH…SHE GOT WHAT SHE DESERVED…WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD DO THIS….HOWEVER SHE BECAME RICH AND FAMOUS…NOW IT IS ALL OKAY….ABSURD STORY AND MORE RACE BULL….GARBAGE TO READ HER WORKS…SO…WHAT DOES SHE WANT FROM US…..ONLY TO BUY HER BULL BOOKS…SO….

  6. Liberalism has given you EVERYTHING that you take for granted. Do you really believe that a conservative would give you anything? Where would health insurance be, social security, medicare, vacations, sick time, and so many other benefits are attributed to Liberalism! I wonder when these are taken away from you if you will be the first person to rant and rave ab out giving you back your rights!
    I take serious pride in being liberal in my thoughts and actions and really resent someone like you or anyone else using the word as though it was evil!

  7. I would say this is not only the problem of liberal Feminists, but of all liberal leftists, as one. It was correctly mentioned by one of the respondents, Carlos Font, that they think with their hearts while ignoring the facts on hand. The leftists (female and male alike) are dreaming of making peace with Palestinians. It is a nice dream, indeed. I guess they never bother to dig deeply into Islamic holy texts that forbid Moslems being friends with infidels while prescribing them to be held only in the state of servitude. As for Jews, the book of Hadith openly calls for killing them (the portion of Sahih Bukhari).
    While working in the Middle East I had many chances to discuss the Middle East problem with Palestinians and other Muslims. I never forget the condescending smiles and contempt on their faces while they spoke about the Jewish Left while at the same time avidly reading the daily English Internet edition of the Israeli leftist newspaper Ha’aretz. “These people” told me once one Palestinian, “will help us to finally liberate the Palestine.” Stupid, ignorant starry-eyed fools.

  8. If this is a true story then it is typical of the naive American girls who believe the Hog Wash spouted by our liberal colleges and high schools. I feel for them but they truly believe (want to believe) the krap these teachers pour on them.

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