Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Pearl that Broke its Shell

Book 25 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from April 9 - 18

The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

Summary (via Goodreads)
Afghan-American Nadia Hashimi's literary debut novel, The Pearl that Broke Its Shell is a searing tale of powerlessness, fate, and the freedom to control one's own fate that combines the cultural flavor and emotional resonance of the works of Khaled Hosseini, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Lisa See.
In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters.
But Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom. A century earlier, her great-aunt, Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life the same way.
Crisscrossing in time, The Pearl the Broke Its Shell interweaves the tales of these two women separated by a century who share similar destinies. But what will happen once Rahima is of marriageable age? Will Shekiba always live as a man? And if Rahima cannot adapt to life as a bride, how will she survive?

My Opinion
Although a fiction novel, bacha posh is a true custom that my (minimal) research indicates is still practiced today.  It interested me and while I haven't read much further yet, there were one or two books on the custom that caught my eye to possibly read it the future.

Good writing keeps the pages turning even if it feels like a very long book.  It's the kind of book where I feel like I've been reading a long time but not many pages have passed.

It was a little clunky at times and I would have to reread things to understand them.  Part of this was because I felt the author assumed more of an understanding of Afghan culture and language from her audience than I had and I had to look up the meanings of words to be able to keep up with the story.

It's really depressing that there isn't much of a noticeable difference between the time periods in how women are treated.  It's sad how undervalued they are.

The author is identified as Afghan-American so this is probably an accurate depiction of how people feel, but the insertion of the politics of "Amrika" after they began bombing the Taliban was a bit heavy-handed at times.  The people were happy but didn't understand why help didn't come sooner; to quote from the book, "Why would Amrika be so upset after just one building was attacked? Half our country had crumbled under the Taliban. We were all thinking the same thing. If only Amrika had been upset about that too".

In the end, I wavered between 3 and 4 stars but rounded up to 4 for Goodreads. 

A Few Quotes from the Book
"That night Khala Shaima started a story of my great-great-grandmother Shekiba, a story that my sisters and I had never heard before. A story that transformed me."

"Too often, I missed the opportunity to learn from Bibi Shekiba's story. She was determined to make a life for herself and I seemed determined to unravel the one I had."

"From what Khala Shaima had told me about Bibi Shekiba, she looked for chances to make her own naseeb. I, her great-great-great granddaughter, could do the same."

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