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Imagine ​a land where it is forbidden for women to wear lipstick, white shoes, or shoes that click on the ground. Where women are not allowed to laugh out loud, nor their silhouettes even be visible from a window. Where streets and parks cannot bear female names. A land of no music where the only entertainment is public amputations and executions.

That’s what Afghanistan was like under the Taliban. People said even the birds had flown away. A tribal chief from Kandahar asked the Taliban leader Mullah Omar what people were supposed to do for fun. “Go and look at flowers”, he replied. But after the Taliban took over there was no rain for five years and all the flowers died.

Their distrust of culture mean that nowhere came under worse repression than the ancient city of Herat, once a centre of Persian culture with a powerful Queen. Bodies hanging from lampposts became a regular sight at the Flower crossroads in the city centre.

It was just behind this crossroads that Christina Lamb stumbled across the Golden Needle Ladies’ Sewing Circle, a group apparently dedicated to one of the few female pastimes that the Taliban regime allowed. But it was much more than that.

The sewing circle was in fact the cover for a heroic act of resistance: teaching young women about literature – utterly forbidden by the Taliban. It was just this sort of spirit, courage and humanity that had seduced Christina Lamb from her first visit to Afghanistan during the Russian occupation in the 1980s.

This book is the story of her love affair with that breathtaking yet tragic country. It is a story of hope and remarkable people: of befriending the man who would become President of Afghanistan long ago when his dream was to become a diplomat; of travelling around with motorcycling mullahs who would later found the Taliban; and of a young woman called Marri, who dreams of dancing in a red silk dress while forced to hide herself under a burqa.

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