At 27, Masuda Sultan has, remarkably, earned her memoir rights. In My War at Home, we see her, at 17, languishing in an arranged marriage in Queens and longing “to disappear”; several years later, she is rallying a group of Afghan women in Kandahar to draft a Women’s Bill of Rights for the country’s prospective constitution. Afghan-born and New York-raised, Sultan has a thing or two to say about events of the past five years, and a rich perspective. She comes to believe that she “made it the United States for a reason”—so that she could “do something.”
There’s a propulsive quality to Sultan’s straightforward writing: You sense the urgency in her mission to convey not only her own story of divided identities and defiant self-discovery, but the myriad stories of those she crosses paths with. When she journeys into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in August 2001, reuniting with her parents’ families, and again after 9-11 (with a documentary film crew), we are offered delicate glimpses into a mesh of aching, “abandoned” lives. As an American, Sultan is viewed in Afghanistan at once as an infidel and a possible savior, and she absorbs the intense longings of those she encounters with a certain uneasiness. The discovery that 19 of her family members were killed in a U.S. attack on a village is recorded in a tone of shocked, numb clarity, yet Sultan’s response is unhampered by bitterness: She proves herself a coolheaded activist, capable of effecting real change.