Life Stories #43: Phyllis Chesler

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Life Stories: Phyllis Chesler
photo: Joan L. Roth

For this episode of Life Stories, I met Phyllis Chesler to discuss her new memoir, An American Bride in Kabul, which recounts how, after marrying her first husband in the early 1960s, she flew with him to meet his family in Afghanistan, where she was ordered to surrender her passport and forced into purdah under her mother-in-law’s murderous supervision. The months Chesler spent in this state of captivity before she was finally sent back to the United States—near the brink of death—are, she says, a foundational core of her subsequent feminist activism.

This is a story about which many readers may feel ambivalent, once they learn that Chesler continued to maintain a relationship with her ex-husband after her escape and their divorce, once he and his second wife fled to the United States following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. How, one may wonder, does a woman continue to regard her “jailer” favorably as a romantic dreamer, despite his misogynistic and anti-Semitic behavior? Chesler doesn’t shy away from such challenges during our conversation, explaining why she refuses to see herself as a victim—and how her experiences have taught her something about the threat to women in the Islamic world that, she believes, other feminists have yet to fully recognize.

Listen to Life Stories #43: Phyllis Chesler (MP3 file); or download this file directly by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). You can also subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released.

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5 October 2013 | life stories |