"Enthralled by mountains, Jean journeyed dauntlessly through the countries spanned by the Himalayas."

After Willacy’s death in 2004, her daughter, Sue, took on the momentous task of compiling and publishing this intimate, cohesive record of her mother’s extraordinary experiences. This historical yet timely biography, composed of drawings, journal entries, letters, personal notes, photographs, speeches, and transcripts of tape recordings, is a tribute to Willacy’s life and legacy and to the indomitable people of Afghanistan.

An American housewife displaced by divorce in the 1960s, Willacy chose an adventurous new life in Afghanistan in 1967 as a visiting businesswoman, importing licorice root and traditional fur-trimmed, embroidered coats favored by hippies in the UK and USA and supplying English language books to Afghan readers. Despite her inexperience in business, she utilized her success to organize an embroidery cottage industry for impoverished widows in Afghanistan’s remote sheep districts. But these carefree years came to a halt in 1978 with the bloody Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Jean’s role suddenly changed from businesswoman to advocate during one of the most brutal refugee diasporas in modern history. She put her photographic and artistic talents to good use while documenting the lives of women and children in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and ultimately used children’s art and their personal descriptions of refugee life in successful fundraising exhibitions.

At times, the epistolary narrative by its very nature seems narrow and episodic, but the patient reader interested in the plight of refugees will be rewarded with a vivid look at the difficulties faced by Afghan women as they navigated the decade-long limbo of refugee camps and the confusing asylum applications to faraway Western countries. This volume is a valuable study of a phenomenon becoming all too common as the contemporary migration and refugee crisis currently engulfs 68 million people worldwide.

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