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Article: Book Review: The Daughters of Kobani

Book Review: The Daughters of Kobani

Book Review: The Daughters of Kobani


I had the pleasure of meeting Gayle Tzemach-Lemmon many years ago while she was researching one of her previous novels. If you enjoy stories of unexpected heroes, I highly recommend all of her books and both of her Ted Talks episodes. Gayle began her career as a journalist at ABC News, but after attending Harvard Business School, she turned her focus to telling the stories of women entrepreneurs that held together their communities and local economies after large numbers of men had been killed in conflict areas. She is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Chief Marketing Officer at Shield AI. This is Gayle’s third New York Times Best Seller.


The Daughters of Kobani is the story of the women of the YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) and the Syrian Kurds that pushed ISIS first out of Kobani and then dethroned their caliphate that was anchored in Syria. The Syrian Kurdish military did not just have women in their forces; they had units composed entirely of women and had women integrated at every level of leadership. For that reason, this book is being marketed as the story of a revolution in women’s rights taking place in the Middle East. 


Having followed the Syrian Civil War from its onset, while I was on active duty, I was aware of the Kurdish women that fought against ISIS, and I was already inspired by them. I had been told once that these women were such fierce fighters in the war against ISIS because they knew they had everything to lose. I watched the YouTube videos. I read profiles of some of their noted and famed fighters. Hungry for camaraderie and knowing full well how few American soldiers experienced that kind of fighting, I envied their courage and prowess. 


While my admiration for these women was deserved, my understanding of their situation was slightly off. The Daughters of Kobani expanded my perspective and affirmed that nuance matters. These women and their courage did not materialize out of thin air in response to the brutality of ISIS.  The women who fought in the YPJ organized and advocated for Kurdish representation and women’s rights long before the fateful events that spiraled into the Syrian Civil War. They did not grab rifles and run into the streets to fight out of fear and necessity. They were educated, organized, and ready to fight for their homes as a minority that had been targeted many times before. The women of the Kurdish military did not fight because they were afraid of what ISIS would take from them; they fought because they dreamed of what their world could be. They were inspired by ideas and community, not just survival. 


Gayle’s experience as a journalist reflects in her writing style. This book reads like a lengthy op-ed, with the personal stories of her protagonists woven throughout its pages. She follows primarily four YPJ fighters from their childhood experiences that shaped their perspectives and ultimately brought them to the battlefield facing ISIS. I caught myself rushing through the historical information to get to the pages about those women. I belatedly realized I was chasing my own memories and trying to live through their camaraderie and combat. Even admitting that I still think Gayle gets it right.  Hero worship without the messy context of reality is pornographic.  Like many veterans, I have a filtered awareness of politics, perhaps greater than the average American and more resigned to the evitable. The layers of conflict in the Syrian Civil War are confusing, and the implications are vast. She leads us through the battles while never letting us forget the context that led to them. We follow the fighting on the street through the eyes of her protagonists and unpack the years of tension and history that manifested at this moment.


If you are curious or overwhelmed by the Syrian Civil War, The Daughters of Kobani is a great place to start. Whether you are interested in the ongoing conflict in Syria, the history of the Islamic State, or how the United States military attempts to use Special Operations Forces and airstrikes to influence future battlefields, this book is an education. I hope that people pick up this book because of the legendary women of the YPJ. Whatever your reason for opening it, readers should walk away reflecting on how this ethnic minority in the Middle East with women at its forefront brought scathing defeat to the world’s most infamous terrorist organization.



ISIS = Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (Arabic word for Levant region)

ISIL = Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant

Buy tomorrow, strong recommendation.

Written By AJ




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