My Forbidden Face, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Latifa was born into an educated middle-class Afghan family in Kabul in 1980.

She dreamed of one day of becoming a journalist, she was interested in fashion, movies and friends.

Her father was in the import/export business and her mother was a doctor.

Then in September 1996, Taliban soldiers seized power in Kabul.

From that moment, Latifa, just 16 years old became a prisoner in her own home.

Her school was closed. Her mother was banned from working. The simplest and most basic freedoms - walking down the street, looking out a window - were no longer hers.

She was now forced to wear a chadri. My Forbidden Face provides a poignant and highly personal account of life under the Taliban regime.

With painful honesty and clarity Latifa describes the way she watched her world falling apart, in the name of a fanatical interpretation of a faith that she could not comprehend.

Her voice captures a lost innocence, but also echoes her determination to live in freedom and hope.

Earlier this year, Latifa and her parents escaped Afghanistan with the help of a French-based Afghan resistance group.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 192 pages, maps
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Biography: general
  • ISBN: 9781860499616

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Review by

My Forbidden Face is an autobiographical account of a teenage girl's life in Afghanistan through the 1990s up to 2001. It is a candid description of the realities of life under an oppressive regime as 'Latifa' comes to terms with the horrendous abuses of the most repressive of belief systems. The Taliban's anti-woman belief system is abhorrent and in some ways is worse than other forms of discrimination because it seeks to crush the hopes and aspirations of an entire gender. Latifa's experience of this horrendous system is in the intrusion into a very real world of a teenager who is not so very different from teenage girls elsewhere on the planet.Latifa is a middle class girl in a society that has crumbled. She has the rare privilege of two well educated and intelligent parents who both support her upbringing. Afghanistan is mostly not this story. Latifa's setting brings out both the strength and the weakness of her tale. She is very normal and her appreciation for Bollywood and Hollywood stars and her teenage drive to find her place in the world can be related to by pretty much anyone. However, her story is not the story of Afghanistan. It is not the story of the provinces of Kandahar or of Hilmand.What Latifa has produced is a worthy addition to the cataloguing of the crimes perpetrated by the Taliban. Prior to 9/11 it was a catalogue seemingly overlooked by most of the world. However, those who had not paid attention to the over 2 decades of seemingly perpetual war since the 1979 Soviet invasion cannot in the last ten years have failed to notice what a terrible regime the Taliban were and are. In 2001 Latifa's story was quite possibly an untold one as few may have known of the plight that befell Afghanistan. A decade later, Latifa's story is just one of so many personal tales of that country which still does not know peace.The lack of peace is brought home immediately by Latifa's account. Her tale begins with the killing of Prime Minister Najibullah in 1996. That death marked the assumption of power by the Taliban backed by Pakistan and by the wealth of Osama bin Laden. It is a somewhat harrowing opening, Latifa's world is changed and the brutality of the new conquerors is evident right from the start. Latifa sets that brutality against the normalcy of her family life - her kind father, her determined mother, and her very different siblings who take different paths to eventually scatter far from one another.The descriptions of the different ethnic tensions is very well done here. Latifa simply does not belabour the point of Pashtun vs Tajik. This is in part because her world view is coloured by her family situation and her rare mix of these two warrior tribes. Latifa's family also act as vehicles to describe the effects of Taliban oppression on everyday life - her mother the doctor no longer able to minister effectively to the needs of her female patients is the most glaring of the examples. The oppression of women seems close to an attempt at genocide in denying women the right to earn money or to be treated for ailments.Latifa is not graphic in her descriptions of some of the suffering she witnesses amongst women she meets. Combined with the somewhat naive writing style, the reader is left to build a separate picture of what might be being alluded to. The descriptions of personal suffering including of her brother imprisoned by the Soviets are examples of oppression but not really the horror that the gender violence is. The stories of corruption are omni-present but someone brought up in Kabul could not truly be shocked by every single official needing to supplement their meagre income through additional extortion.Latifa's journey to Mazar is interesting because it is designed to show her continued belief in the true tenants of Islam. Mazar was the home of the Northern Alliance and is mainly a Tajik city. Latifa's description of the miracle that she witnessed is more a sign of her devotion than anything else. Religion is clearly very important for Latifa and she is at pains to stress the distortion of the belief system that the Taliban represent.The length of the book seems designed not to be too taxing and it is quite probably aimed at a somewhat popular market. The level of detail is a little limited and some of the stories seem quite rushed. The story of Latifa's role as an underground teacher for instance seems to appear from nowhere and end within a page or two.Many of Latifa's stories are about times before the Taliban. The fights between the hero of the resistance Ahmed Shah Masood and the fanatics of Hekmatyar or the unfairness of the Soviet system take up much of the book. Indeed, there is really quite a lot of the book devoted to pre-Taliban tales which are presumably designed to set the context of the long history and culture of this region but are not directly linked to the core message of the nightmare of Taliban oppression.Latifa makes a couple of references to the international community. The most common reference is Pakistan who have backed different factions of extreme Islamists including the Taliban. She is very clear in her message - the problems of Afghanistan have their route cause in Pakistan. Frankly this is not true as Afghanistan has not really been a stable and content country since the destruction wrought by the Genghis Khan. Aside from a couple of references to the British and one to the Macedonians, Latifa's context doesn't include much about pre-Soviet Afghanistan and the incredible poverty the people of the country have endured for centuries. Still, in modern times there is no doubt about the role of Pakistan and Latifa's is perhaps one of the first messagse that asserted such a claim in the mainstream press.Latifa's is a story of oppression and hardship. Her's is a tale of the middle class teenage girl who has her future stolen away by the arrival of the Taliban. It is a useful reminder for those who support such regimes including through their opposition to attempts to subdue them, that the Taliban are amongst the very worst of the world's horrific criminals.

Review by

I am coming to realize that all the books I've read about and by the women of Afghanistan have been by upper middle class girls/women. They are literate, despite the efforts of the Taliban to remove them from the world. And if THEIR lives are as sorry and miserable as portrayed here, which I have no reason to doubt, it is hard to imagine how poor women manage to stay alive at all.The story of Afghanistan is endless war: British, Soviet, tribal, Taliban, and then the utterly corrupt regime put in place by the US.The stories of Afghan women will break your heart. Here, the mother of the family, an Ob-Gyn, and the daughters, journalists, become physically ill from their confinement under the Taliban. Under the drone of Radio Sharia, the list of what is forbidden grows to insane proportions. Finally part of the family makes their way to Paris to expose the Taliban to the world. Like Pakistani Malala, "Latifa" (pen name, to stay safely hidden)is exiled forever. Like Malala, these women love their country strongly but it is unlikely they will ever return.

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