Bridging cultures: Two faces but one winner

29th August 2003 at 01:00

The Storyteller's Daughter: Return to a lost homeland
By Saira Shah
Michael Joseph pound;16.99

"It is practically impossible to convey concepts outside somebody's cultural experience," writes Saira Shah. Exactly. For a westerner to penetrate a different culture and interpret it authentically is very difficult.

What if we happen to be born with the genes of one culture but raised in another? Saira Shah has an Afghan father but was brought up in Tunbridge Wells, in leafy Kent. She has returned to Afghanistan repeatedly to seek her roots and explore the authenticity of the stories told to her by her father.

Does an ability to speak Persian, to have been nurtured on tales (or are they myths?) of Afghanistan, with Afghan blood in her veins and a fearlessness few could equal, make her an insider or an outsider? As Saira herself says: "Two people live inside of me. Like a couple who rarely speak, they are not compatible. My western side is a sensitive, liberal, middle-class pacifist. My Afghan side I can only describe as a rapacious robber-baron. It revels in bloodshed, glories in risk and will not be afraid."

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