A Different Kind of Daughter – Maria Toorpakai
with Katherine Holstein
Ken Harris summarises last Saturday's discussion of this book by the Good Faith Book Club.
This was a book which everyone (apart from one member who had not finished it) had found a very interesting read. This was despite the issues the book covered being quite challenging. It tells the story of a young woman who, as a girl, challenged the cultural norms of a Taliban-dominated society situated in the region of Pakistan which borders on Afghanistan, by taking on a male persona and joining in with boys in playing sports, such as football and weightlifting.
There was some criticism of what was felt by some to be an overlong description of Maria's early days, when she used the name Ghengis Khan and wore boy's clothing. It was only in the second half of the book, when she faced the inevitability of being open about her female body, that the challenges that face women living in a male-dominated society really came to the fore. Everyone found the second part informative and enlightening, and the words 'engrossing' and 'gripping' as well as 'harrowing' were used to describe their impact on different members.
While Islam itself was not discussed, it was there throughout the book, and particularly in the lives of Maria's parents, whose religious understanding was evident in both their faithful adherence to Islamic practices and in the devotion that they showed, not only towards Maria but also in the work that they undertook in the wider society outside of the family.
The story of how Maria eventually became a top female squash player, overcoming the many obstacles in her path, highlighted many different issues which face the world today, particularly in the face of fundamentalist thinking of many different kinds. While it was the challenges within Islam and Islamic societies that featured here, these same issues face people of all faiths and none, as the world struggles with issues of gender and the roles that people are expected to play within families and societies. There is much to learn from and ponder about in this book. A good read!