Afghanistan Remembers: Gendered Narrations of Violence and Culinary Practices
University of Toronto Press, Toronto 2014, 178 pp.
Reviewed by Janet G. Brashler
It may strike some people as odd that an archaeologist specializing in North American archaeology was asked to review Parin Dossa’s book Afghanistan Remembers. My interest in the book stems from teaching a course in early 2015 for an anthropology capstone on the subject of violence, hence I was interested in reading diverse works on the topic.
Parin Dossa has written a compelling, nuanced and highly relevant volume detailing the seemingly hidden impacts of violence experienced in Afghanistan. In this theoretically grounded and methodologically strong work, Dossa uses her own family experience and personal narratives of several dozen other Afghan women in both Canada and Afghanistan to explore experiences of violence. In particular, Dossa draws on how violence is processed through memory and food ways among those women who experienced decades of deprivation and violence and survived to rebuild their lives after migration, bereavement and loss. It is a persuasive addition to literature on violence that examines the personal, local and enduring responses to violence and its aftermath. Dossa offers an important contribution to engaged anthropology – reminding us that violence and its consequences are not over when it is no longer headline news.
The book is clearly written and arranged in seven sections including an introduction, five chapters and a conclusion, with an appendix, notes, references and an index.
The Introduction sets out the context and background to the substance of the ethnography, women’s narratives. Here Dossa describes her own experiences and the lays out the book’s aims: “my intent in this book is to make violence in the inner recesses of life knowable through the memory work of women” with the objective of exposing the “not-quite-articulated knowledge that exists within in-between spaces” (Dossa pp 7-9). These objectives are followed by a summary of the recent history of Afghanistan, and a discussion of the three essential pieces of Dossa’s argument: social memory, narrative and food. The Introduction concludes with a restatement of Dossa’s central objective – to show how memory work can contribute to understanding violence at a deeply personal and critical area if we are to truly understand social justice and human dignity.
Chapter 1, Epistemology and Methodology, describes the two locales of her fieldwork in Afghanistan and Canada, and explores how Dossa uses memory work to expose violence in intimate and personal aspects of her informants and their families. Relying on the methodology of engaged anthropology, Dossa situates herself within her research as both a refugee and as a person with ties to war-torn Afghanistan.
Chapter 2 presents the perspectives of Afghan women in their homeland exploring the intersections of violence, food and memory. In this and Chapter 3, which looks at the memories of violence among Afghan women in a diaspora community in Canada, Dossa explores the content of the memories in the two locations and analyzes what is both said and unsaid, articulating relationships between the personal and every day with the larger struggle between the ‘north and south.’
Chapters 4 and 5 explore the ruptures to food ways and cuisine experienced by women in Afghanistan and Canada, demonstrating how the daily acquisition, preparation and consumption of food portrays the violent processes of loss and the pervasiveness of that loss through recovery.
The Conclusion reconsiders the central themes of violence as exposed by gendered memory work related to food and explores the implications the book raises related to engaged ethnography. Dossa suggests the need to understand not only the larger issues of systemic injustice and violence, but also the everyday stories of violence experienced and told so that we may have a more complete, more human understanding of those who experience violence.
In sum Dossa offers a nuanced and thoughtful account of how violence becomes socially invisible but still impacts the everyday lives of women rebuilding their lives after decades of trauma. With this work, Dossa calls readers to recognize and name the impact of the pervasive attributes of violence that permeate the lives of those who live among us.
Janet G. Brashler is Professor and Curator of Anthropology at Grand Valley State University. Her undergraduate degree from Northwestern and Master’s and Ph.D. from Michigan State are in anthropology with an emphasis in archaeology and Native American cultures past and present. Her research interests include archaeology of Eastern North America and Middle East, ecological anthropology, and social justice and structural violence related to contemporary Native American issues. Recently she has explored issues surrounding eldercare, working with personal narrative and intimate ethnography. She is the author/editor of four monographs and over 40 articles and book chapters and numerous contract reports