Review: The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan

November 18, 2014 book review, non fiction 5

Girls of Kabul

  • Written By:  Jenny Nordberg
  • Published By:  Crown Publishing Group, an imprint of Random House September 16, 2014
  • Length:  350 pages
  • Source:  Blogging for Books in consideration of an honest review

Afghanistan is perhaps the worst places in the world to be born a girl.  It is a country where a families worth is based on the number of sons it produces.  Pity is given on those who only have girls.  Food and other necessities are given more freely to those with sons, punishing the families with only daughters even more.

In The Underground Girls of Kabul, Jenny Nordberg meets and has the opportunity to interview a variety of women who are practicing something I’d never heard of.  A bacha posh is translated in Dari as “dressed up like a boy”.  For a variety of reasons many young girls are presented to the outside world as a boy.  They dress like a boy, are sent to school, able to work in markets.  This practice while not openly discussed is often occurring.  The family may be one with no sons and the appearance of having a son gives them respect and better position in an unspoken hierarchy. Many believe this is good life training, with magical benefits.  The young girls typically dress as a boy until the time of puberty, but as the reader learns this is not always the rule.

Nordberg is able to speak to these women in ways that are both intimate and unusual.  She meets Azita a woman who once held a place in Parliament. Her youngest daughter Mehran is a boy to those outside the family.  Azita wants for her child an education, the opportunity to see and experience things a girl cannot.  She also saw it as a way for others to stop pitying her family.

Zahra is older and she still dresses as a male, she no desire to be a woman.  Her family began dressing her as a boy to bring good luck to her mother to have a son.  There is so much that is difficult to understand because our culture does not have the extreme importance in having a son.  Zahra is in the crosshairs of her parents wishes.  Her mother would like her to now dress as a girl, and marry.  Her father does not wish to hurt Zahra.

There are other women, other stories, and not at all happy endings.  While I was reading this I kept wondering what the long term implications are for these young girls.  Nordberg did speak to women who had positive transitions from bacha posh to young women.  They value their former ability to learn and be accepted.  Women’s lives in Afghanistan are limited and harsh.  They are married off to most benefit her family, and she is often one of many wives and treated brutally.

This book was amazing.  I had no idea such a thing existed in a country where so much is hidden about women and their roles.  It still seems against the male power structure to allow a young girl to be raised as a boy.  I realize oppression of the female sex has long been the norm in most of the world. Nordberg’s writing brought this back to me in glaring comparisons of the lives of these women.  My copy of this book is going to my son’s high school library, it’s such an important topic, I hope it’s checked out often.  Get your hands on this book, it’s so very well done.


5 Responses to “Review: The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan”

  1. rivercityreading

    I keep hearing great things about this and you only made me want to read it more. I definitely hadn’t heard of this practice before and I’m so curious about it now.

  2. Beth Hoffman

    A devastating fact of Afghanistan culture that has gone on for far too long. It breaks my heart.

  3. DoingDewey

    I think donating this is a great idea! I learned a lot reading this and agree that it’s an important topic which more people should be made aware of.

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