Tali Girls


Translated from by

Published: December 12, 2023





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Book Description

At a time when global powers debate whether to legitimize the Taliban regime in Afghanistan by acknowledging it, and Afghan women, periodically a cause célèbre, have again been forgotten from the world’s consciousness and priorities, Siamak Herawi brings them centerstage in his novel Tali Girls and takes us deep into the heart of his motherland to witness the reality of their lives under the Taliban’s most extreme interpretation of Islam. The result is a sobering and harrowing tale that relates the current ethos of a country under occupation by one power or another for more than half a century.

Tali Girls follows three girls coming of age amidst brutal realities of a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Told in a direct, conversational prose, this chorus of voices offers us a vivid picture of the endless cycle of the suffering of girls and women in the grip of the Taliban authorities, of the imbalance of power and opportunity. Based on true stories, the central figures illuminate the power of love, friendship, and generosity in the face of poverty and oppression. Their experiences and dilemmas have a visceral power and we become deeply attached to Kowsar, Geesu, and Simin. These are testaments of resilience, hope, courage, and visceral fear, of doors of opportunity, opening just a crack, that offer a way out. In Sara Khalili’s vibrant and nuanced translation from the Persian, Tali Girls tears down the curtain and exposes the treacherous realities of what women are up against in modern-day, war-torn Afghanistan.

Praise for Tali Girls

Tali Girls is an electrifying book. Swift, devastating, and unforgettable.
Justin Torres, author of We the Animals and Blackouts

There are echoes here of Miriam Toews’s Women Talking . . . Herawi’s first novel to be published in the U.S. has been rendered into clear, pointed prose by Sarah Khalili. He uses the pervasive rituals of household and village life to provide color and context and displays compelling empathy when he contrasts older women’s anger and resignation with the girls’ shock and despair upon realizing the physical and emotional imprisonment they face.
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Herawi’s chronicle of the actual lives and fates of Afghan girls and women is one that I have rarely seen so simply yet uncompromisingly portrayed and presented. I believe Tali Girls is a story that needs to be told, read, and remembered. What plagues the silenced girls of Herawi’s novel is prevalent not only throughout Afghanistan but appears in other guises in many societies throughout the world.
Sara Khalili

A dark warning for any society now facing the rise of extremist fundamentalism, and a literary feat of sublime compassion, Tali Girls is as painful to read as it is necessary. Siamak Herawi has given full voice to the suffering of Afghanistan’s women under Taliban rule. Oppression of this magnitude is a tragedy not only for a people, but for individuals with crushed hopes and lives—young Kowsar, Simin, Geesu. Know them, Herawi implores. The world must not turn away. The reader of this searing story can not.
Melissa Holbrook Pierson, author of The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing and The Secret History of Kindness

Herawi paints a rich portrait of Afghan life that readers will be able to see, smell, and hear. With deft skill and sensitivity, he gives voice to modern Afghan women's oppressive, harrowing, and brutal experiences. Skillfully translated from the Persian by Sara Khalili, this heartbreaking and necessary read uplifts as these women resist and persevere.
Booklist, starred review

In Tali Girls, the central problem facing the villagers comes down to this: to leave or to stay. As one young man from Tali describes his impossible situation, “Running away is worse than staying, and staying is worse than running away.” It would be easy to conclude that the people of Tali are doomed . . . But Tali Girls is too big-hearted to remain in this space of cynicism. Throughout the book, sentiments of hopelessness and despair are always contradicted by the fierce spirit of Kowsar, with her belief in the power of love, and of storytelling.
Anna Learn, World Literature Today

Tali Girls is an extraordinary book: poetic in its focus on the most humble moments of life and smallest details of landscape, and utterly devastating in its depiction of bright, passionate girls being crushed by corruption and desperation in an Afghanistan that has tried to render them powerless. That they are not powerless is revealed in sometimes shocking ways (the novel is a page-turner, a horror story, a thriller, and also often very funny), but most of all by rendering inner lives that no predator, despot, or Talib, can extinguish.
Amy Waldman, author of A Door in the Earth and The Submission

In Siamak Herawi’s Tali Girls, translated into crystalline English by Sara Khalili, we enter into an Afghanistan where women and girls earn every measure of their joy amidst lives torn asunder by a relentless conspiracy of empires. Tali Girls is an unforgettable story filled with characters I will carry with me.
Kaveh Akbar, author of poetry collections Pilgrim Bell and Calling a Wolf a Wolf, and a novel called Martyr!

Tali Girls is a harrowing novel about the brutal lives of women in a terrorist-controlled state. In the end, Kowsar’s fate remains an open question. This is, perhaps, the kindest possible conclusion to her story.
Eileen Gonzalez, Forward Reviews, starred review

A haunting portrait . . . In this often dark novel, moments of tenderness alleviate the gloom . . . Herawi’s critique of religious fundamentalism broadens as he assigns blame for Afghanistan’s woes to the power-hungry . . . men consumed by power, greed, and lust.
Bareerah Y. Ghani, Washington Independent Review of Books

In clear, crisp, almost folkloric prose, Herawi weaves a tale of rural life in contemporary Afghanistan that honours both the beauty of the landscape and the stark realities—internal and external—that have impacted the population over the years . . . Herawi has created an exhilarating novel with a relatively large cast of characters that we quickly come to care deeply about . . . [Tali Girls] is a vital portrait.
Joseph Schreiber, Rough Ghosts

Tali Girls, lucidly translated from the 2018 Persian original by award-winning Sara Khalili, is both a provoking exposé and wrenching homage to the girls and women of Herawi's birth country . . . 'Read... to understand the world around you,' a brave teacher once demanded of Kowsar. Audiences granted such privileged access here should obey this urgent charge.
Terry Hong, Shelf Awareness, starred review