The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi
Rahima’s family is in need of a man. Her father is either away from home or his mind is clouded with opium. Her mother and three sisters are not allowed to roam the streets unaccompanied even though it is 2007 in Afghanistan. So her family decides to make Rahima into Rahim. This is the custom known as bacha posh; a girl wears pants and cuts her hair and exists as a boy until she becomes of marriageable age. Rahim/Rahima learns that she was not the first in her family to be a bacha posh, her great-great-grandmother was as well, and she was a guard of the king’s harem in Kabul. Things go well for both bacha posh living their lives as men until they have to wear skirts and become women again.
If you are looking for an uplifting story where women overcome adversity then only read the first half of the book. The freedom these women experience as boys and men is thrilling to them and therefore to the reader as well. This makes their transition back to being women, having their new found freedom snatched from them, heartbreaking and devastating. While neither character (their narratives told in alternating chapters) dies, I can’t say they are living either for their lives are not their own. This is realistic fiction, and even though I adore dark books, this one was too sad for my taste.
This novel is an eye-opening glimpse into life in Afghanistan and how the modern world is being held at arm’s length by many in Kabul.