Named from an Afghan saying that “However tall the mountain, there’s always a road,” However Tall the Mountain: A Dream, Eight Girls, & A Journey Home is the true story of a project conceived by the book’s author, Awista Ayub, to bring teenaged girls from Afghanistan to the United States for soccer training. The story follows the eight girls’ experiences in the United States as well as in Afghanistan before and after the trip.
The story itself is interesting and engaging, and quick to read. Although the writing is at times overly sentimental, the story is moving and it’s easy to cheer for the team’s success. The book is strongest and most genuine when reflecting, in the first person, Ayub’s own experiences and identity as an Afghan-American woman (a label in which, she writes, “that hyphen includes and divides.”) At the end of the book, her trip to Afghanistan for the first time since she left it as a baby, evokes questions about home and identity that are also very powerfully expressed. It would also have been interesting to see some of the girls telling some of their own stories directly (rather than only Ayub’s retelling of them.)
That said, However Tall the Mountain generally does a good job of reflecting the diversity of personalities, backgrounds, families, and experiences of the young participants involved in the soccer team, who all come across as very active characters in the story. They all have different relationships to their country, their culture, and the violence they’ve experienced, which gives a three-dimensional picture of each girl herself and also of the team as a whole, and, by extension, of young Afghan women. Even the physical descriptions of the girls show a widely varied group, and—with the major, cringe-worthy exception of the description of one girl to the famous National Geographic cover from many years ago—steer clear of stereotypes of what “Afghan women” look like (or “should” look like.)