The UN Women/USNC Gulf Coast Book Club met on Monday, November 4, 2013 to discuss Aboard the Democracy Train: A Journey through Pakistan’s Last Decade of Democracy, by Nafisa Hoodbhoy. Hoodbhoy was raised by an educated, prosperous family in Karachi among Christians, Zoroastrians and Hindus. She studied history in the United States and returned to become the only woman reporter for Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper, Dawn. Her sixteen-year journalism career began during the Islamic oppressive era of Gen. Zia ul Haq, but her book focuses on “the nation’s whiff of democracy” as she covered Benazir Bhutto’s chaotic campaign to become prime minister as head of the Pakistani People‘s Party.
A photo of Bhutto’s train serves as the book’s cover. Just looking at the riotous crowds around, on top of, and jammed inside the train gives the reader a hint of the bedlam that surrounded Pakistani politics between 1988-1999, and culminated in Bhutto’s assassination. Hoodbhoy also explores Pakistani-Afghan politics, observing that the region’s future hinges much on the situation in Afghanistan, and tribal insurgencies in Pakistan .
Hoodbhoy’s perspective on women’s rights is surprisingly optimistic. She notes the power of social media, organizations such as “War against Rape,” and a Citizens Education Development Foundation that educates girls and boys at home before sending them to regular schools.
Sharon Burde, President of UN Women Gulf Coast Chapter, shared insights of her conversations with Hoodbhoy. We were fascinated to learn that though strong traditions and customary laws still keep most women indoors, Hoodbhoy visits Pakistan regularly.
Readers found the book very informative, if challenging, with its kaleidoscope of people and events, as complex as Pakistan itself. Many cliff-hanging episodes keep one glued to the page, such as an incident when the author is followed to her house by a would-be assassin who jumps from his car flashing a long knife just as she whisks inside the gate.
Nafisa Hoodbhoy’s harrowing experiences and political insights make her book required reading for understanding her part of the world.
(To learn more about Nafisa Hoodbhoy’s activities, please visit her web site: http://www.aboardthedemocracytrain.com)
Future readings include:
December However Long the Night: Molly Melching’s Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph (The story of TOSTAN Senegal/Africa)
January The Almond Tree, by Michelle Cohen Corasanti (Israel/Palestine)
February Peony, by Pearl S. Buck
March Ruth Prawer Jhabvala: Select any or all of this incredible author’s works, e.g., Heat and Dust, The Householder, My Nine Lives, A Love Song for India
April Alesandra Olenka de SasKropiwnicka, Olenka and/or Love Conquers All, Olenka in Africa (Polish Holocaust survivor) (available on Kindle, Amazon)
May Danticat, Edwidge, Claire of the Sea Light (Haiti)
June Giocanda Belli: The Country Under My Skin (Nicaragua)
July Malala Yousafzai: I Am Malala (Pakistan)
August Jhumpa Lahiri: The Lowland
September Aminatta Farna: Ancestor Stones