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However Tall the Mountain: A Dream, Eight Girls, and a Journey Home by Awista Ayub

However Tall the Mountain“However tall the mountain, there’s always a road,” so goes the Afghan proverb that opens Awista Ayub‘s inspiring memoir. Thank goodness for the energy of youth to actually find the right path, then get to the top, which is just what Ayub did.

With the official fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan was suddenly open for travel: “I didn’t want to be a tourist in my own homeland,” Ayub writes in her prologue. “I wanted to make a meaningful contribution to the country in which I’d been born.” Still in her mid-20s, Ayub – who fled Afghanistan with her family when she was just 2 years old – left her comfortable chemical engineering job and founded the Afghan Youth Sports Exchange in 2003. She chronicles her debut exchange effort here … from identifying eight Kabul girls whose love of soccer burst through strict cultural restraints, who were able to travel to the other side of the world to learn to play a better game and eventually compete in the 2004 International Children’s Games in Cleveland, Ohio.

Woven into the narrative of the six weeks the Kabul girls spent Stateside, is Ayub’s own family’s escape from certain death in their native country and building an unfamiliar new life thousands of miles away. Ayub splices the girls’ American trip with some of their individual stories: Samira whose return home proves to be an unexpectedly difficult readjustment; the sisters Laila and Freshta and their family’s reverse emigration from Pakistan back to Afghanistan; Miriam’s fight with her own brother to play the game she so loves; and Robina, the oldest of the girls, whose sense of responsibility bolsters the team in the U.S. and continues back at home.

Ayub’s vision, and the lives of her eight girls, undoubtedly make for a powerful read. As the Taliban resurfaces in parts of (still) war-torn Afghanistan, the small window of relative freedom Afghan women recently regained is under threat once again. That potential loss certainly makes this title all the more poignant. In spite of the occasional stumbles with chronology and sometimes disjointed representation of the girls’ stories, overall, Ayub has managed to climb one hefty mountain. Indeed, her actual achievement in creating and shepherding this remarkable exchange overshadows the quibbles within her book.

Tidbit: Interestingly enough, the title from hardback to paper changed to Kabul Girls Soccer Club, with the same subtitle. I haven’t seen the new edition (out June this year), but I definitely prefer the original title!

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2009


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