As a teenager in Peshawar, Pakistan, where women were more restricted than in 1980s Kabul, and she first became used to covering her head with a scarf, Kargar had no romantic or sexual experiences of any kind. “I was a very dull teenager, very quiet and isolated from boys,” she says. “We were a girls family [five sisters, one brother] and in our culture, love stories are not really good stories to hear, so maybe those things had an effect. I didn’t even understand that these feelings existed; I never even had a crush. It was weird.”
What is disturbing in the book, and must surely be for many women in reality, is the way that such complete ignorance — even on her wedding night, in London, Zarghuna had no idea what to expect in the bedroom — is suddenly shocked out of them, as they are expected instantaneously to turn into adult women. One girl known to her family in Pakistan and mentioned in the book, offered in a marriage exchange at 11, died in childbirth after the book went to press — aged 13.
Now, with such innocence firmly behind her, Zarghuna is determined to make her own choices. She says the moment of her greatest strength was the decision not to have children with her husband when everyone around her encouraged it.
“I want to be a mother with somebody I love, and not just for the sake of my own happiness. I want to give proper happiness to my kid with a loving daddy if I can. But if that doesn’t happen, then I’m happy the way I am.”