Memoirs of remarkable people are often done in collaboration with another, sometimes acknowledged and otherwise ghost-written.
A Different Kind Of Daughter is the memoir of Maria Toorpakai, a Pakistani squash champion from the tumultuous Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (Fata) bordering Afghanistan.
It is written with Katharine Holstein, who has worked with numerous personalities before. The result is a beautifully written memoir with questionable authenticity concerning its narrator’s voice, and a narrative that seems contrived to appeal to a Western readership.
Maria’s life story is the stuff of remarkable tales: born in a highly conservative Pashtun community, she felt constrained by social expectations of her gender.
Disguising as a boy and called “Genghis Khan” by her father, she went about with boys, beating them at athletics and becoming an international squash champion.
Her prominence and nonconformity place her at odds with the Taliban and the conservative figures in her community. Her behaviour is a deviation intolerable to many, who believe the only punishment for such defiance is death.
The prose is lyrical, evocative and luxurious. There are soft declarations of the azan whispered into ears, pomegranates held or consumed amidst scenes of bloodshed, and images of destitution and drug addiction juxtaposed against the oppressing forces of immense religious and social conservatism.
So lyrical is this memoir that glancing at the photographs in the photo spreads is slightly unnerving.
While the writing transports the reader to an exotic land peopled with equally exotic individuals, the photographs bring the experience crashing down to earth.
It invites the question: how did this book come to be?
Did Maria Toorpakai communicate anecdotes of her life to be transcribed and connected by Holstein? If so, was the direction in conveying the story hers, or her publisher’s?
I had questions about Fata and the way men, women or minorities negotiate their existence in such a state – as well as its relationship to Pakistan at large – but the memoir glosses over these issues.
As a reviewer, however, I cannot speculate on the manner by which a book comes about and I comment only on the finished product.
Questions of authenticity aside, A Different Kind Of Daughter brings much of the same pleasures that reading works set in Central Asia tend to provide – you are transported to a different land and its people, then cheer the triumph of an individual shaking herself free from the fetters of religious extremism and rigid conservatism.
Yet the experience may just be a little too familiar. You can begin reading this memoir knowing exactly what to expect and be sufficiently satisfied by the delivery.
To some, this is exactly what makes this book worth reading, though others may desire more.
A Different Kind of Daughter
Authors: Maria Toorpakai with Katharine Holstein
Publisher: Twelve/Grand Central Publishing/Hachette, non-fiction