Chayes, Sarah 1962-

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Chayes, Sarah 1962-


Born 1962, in Washington, DC; daughter of Abram (a law professor) and Antonia (former undersecretary of the Air Force) Chayes. Education: Harvard University, B.A., M.A.


Writer, journalist. Monitor Radio, Boston, MA, reporter, 1991-1995; National Public Radio, correspondent, 1996-2002. Afghans for Civil Society, aid worker; Arghand Cooperative, director and founder. Served in the Peace Corps.


Radcliffe College History Prize, for the best thesis written by a woman, 1984; Foreign Press Club and Sigma Delta Chi awards, 1999; Best Books of 2006 list, Kirkus Reviews, for The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan after the Taliban.


The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan after the Taliban, Penguin Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to the Christian Science Monitor.


Sarah Chayes was a National Public Radio correspondent covering the 2002 war in Afghanistan and its aftermath when she decided to take a break from journalism and attempt to do her own part in rebuilding the country. Commenting in an interview for Frontline/World, Chayes discussed her motivation for turning from journalism to humanitarian activist: "Afghanistan is a compelling place…. As for me, though I've been called a war reporter, I'm not drawn to conflict; I am drawn to what happens afterward, to the chaos and promise of societies recovering from war…. I'm also rather spartan in my habits and tastes, and I think it's the ruggedness of this land and its people, their tenaciousness, their refusal to bend—sometimes to a fault—that draws me. And in contrast to other places I'd been, notably the Balkans, I felt strongly there were a few people acting in the true interests of their country. I felt I just had to throw my lot in with them."

In 2006 Chayes, who has continued to live and work in Afghanistan, published The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan after the Taliban, an examination of what went wrong after American and other international forces occupied the country. In the work, Chayes criticizes the United States government for allowing war lords to resume their brutal grip on power in various regions of Afghanistan and for allowing the Taliban to infiltrate the country once again. Chayes blames the Bush administration's "war on terror" for distracting the United States from its real mission in Afghanistan. The author also faults neighboring Pakistan for aiding the escalation of violence in Afghanistan. Reviewing The Punishment of Virtue in Booklist, Jay Freeman felt it is not "a balanced account," but "given her knowledge and experience, [Chayes] merits atten- tion." Higher praise came from Weekly Standard contributor Vance Serchuk, who called The Punishment of Virtue "arguably the best book yet about politics and power in Afghanistan after the Taliban." Serchuk went on to note that the book is not intended as objective journalism, but rather "an impressionistic, and intensely personal, account of one intrepid explorer there." Similarly, a Kirkus Reviews critic called it "absorbing reading," while a Publishers Weekly contributor felt that Chayes's "hands-on experience as a deeply immersed reporter and activist gives her lucid analysis and prescriptions a practical scope and persuasive authority." Further praise came from Time International writer Aryn Baker, who found the book "haunting and passionate," as well as a "disturbing read." And for David Rohde, writing in the New York Times Book Review, The Punishment of Virtue is an "engrossing account."



American Prospect, January-February, 2007, review of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan after the Taliban, p. 37.

Booklist, July 1, 2006, Jay Freeman, review of The Punishment of Virtue, p. 23.

Boston Globe, May 9, 2006, Declan Walsh, "American Activist Finds Her Calling in Afghan Hot Spot."

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2006, review of The Punishment of Virtue, p. 611.

Newsday, August 20, 2006, Roy Gutman, review of The Punishment of Virtue.

New York Times Book Review, September 17, 2006, David Rohde, review of The Punishment of Virtue, p. 33.

Publishers Weekly, June 5, 2006, review of The Punishment of Virtue, p. 53.

Time International, January 15, 2007, Aryn Baker, review of The Punishment of Virtue, p. F4.

Weekly Standard, January 1, 2007, Vance Serchuk, "The Other War; One Afghan City and American Foreign Policy."


Democracy Now!, (October 10, 2006), "Sarah Chayes on Life in Afghanistan after the Taliban and Why She Left NPR."

Frontline/World, (April 9, 2007), "Interview with Sarah Chayes: Danger, Determination and Destiny."

Transom, (April 9, 2007), "Sarah Chayes."


A House for Haji Baba (video), PBS/Frontline/World, 2003.

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