Anne Frank's diary gives comfort to Afghan girls in secret book club : Goats and Soda The Taliban banned secondary education for girls. In one secret book club, teens gather to discuss a book from another era that they find deeply relevant: Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl

Anne Frank's diary speaks to teen girls in a secret Kabul book club

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In the year since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, they have tried to restrict the education and curiosity of girls. They've banned girls from high school and told them to cover up and stay home. But in one secret book club in Kabul, Afghan girls have connected to another girl, from another time and place, who was forced to live her own life in secret. NPR's Diaa Hadid has the story.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: In a side-alley basement on Kabul's outskirts, about a dozen teenage girls are reading the diary of a teenager. A girl named Zahra is inspired.

ZAHRA: (Through interpreter) She had hope. She was fighting. She was studying. She was resisting her fate.

HADID: She was Anne Frank. And the girls noticed that, just like them, she was a child - one who was starting to learn about the world when she was forced into hiding because of an oppressive, violent government.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: Volunteers set up this weekly book club after the Taliban took over Afghanistan. It was to help girls process their trauma, in part by learning about the persecution of others. These girls aren't just living through the Taliban's rule. Nearly all of them have survived suicide bombings. Some were wounded. Some lost family. They lost friends. They all belong to a persecuted ethnic minority called Hazaras.

ARZOU: We come here. We talk about the book, and then we understand ourself, our thoughts. It's so amazing.

HADID: That's Arzou. We're only using the first names of the girls because if they're identified, they could be punished and the book club shut down. An Afghan refugee named Khalil Wedad in the Netherlands translated Anne Frank's book, "The Diary Of A Young Girl," into Farsi more than a decade and a half ago. He hoped Afghan girls would see themselves a little in her story, and they do.

ARZOU: I think Anne Frank is, like, as a friend for me.

HADID: Arzou says it's the first time they've read of a girl their age living through extreme hardship.

ARZOU: Something is in common with me and Anne Frank. We are both the victims of war. I mean, Anne Frank is suffering from war, and I am, too. And Anne Frank cannot go to school, cannot, like, go out very freely. And I have the same situation.

HADID: Before the Taliban came to power, Arzou says her grades were so high that she expected to apply to colleges abroad. That dream is over. She's 17, but her hair is streaked with gray. And she says she's learning that other people, like the Jews of Europe, like Anne Frank, lived through worse.

ARZOU: I found Anne Frank's situation more harder than us. They cannot go out. And every minute, they are thinking of being free. But in the end - and they even die. So if I think of my situation - so I am very grateful because I have these people that I can share my ideas with. We can gather together. We can talk about everything that we want.

HADID: Seventeen-year-old Masouma raises her hand to talk. She's wearing a lavender headscarf and purple robe. She relates to how Anne Frank faced the real fear that she'd be killed and also managed typical teenage problems, like dealing with her mother.

MASOUMA: (Through interpreter) I loved the whole book. It was like a friend of mine telling me her pain, her stories. When she called her diary Kitty, I smiled, and I imagined that I was Kitty and that we are best friends.

HADID: Masouma says she's resisting her fate, just like Anne. Despite the Taliban's ban on girls having secondary education, she was sneaking into a high school that was secretly letting girls attend class. She and other girls were ducking into the school gate in tiny numbers, hoping they wouldn't be noticed.

MASOUMA: (Through interpreter) But there were too many of us, and the principal told us we had to go home because he couldn't ensure our security. The girls were all crying.

HADID: There's something else, too. Like Anne Frank's father, Masouma says she knows the pain of surviving when your loved ones die. Tears are quietly rolling down her face. She doesn't want to talk about it, but she says it makes her feel closer to the Frank family. She and the other girls say her diary is inspiring, comforting, even though they know Anne Frank died of typhus in 1945 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. I asked Zahra, who we heard from earlier, didn't that depress you? She says, no.

ZAHRA: (Through interpreter) Nobody knows how long I will live or when I will die. The only thing you can do is leave something behind for the world that gives your life meaning.

HADID: Like Anne Frank, who left behind her diary.

ZAHRA: (Through interpreter) Right now, the Taliban are in power. One day they will be gone. Maybe people will forget what they did to girls like me.

HADID: Zahra says, I want to write a book so the world will know about us as well.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Kabul.


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