Author: Nadia Hashimi
Publisher: William Morrow
Afghan-American Nadia Hashimi’s literary debut novel 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-great grandmother, 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?
Little girls are different than little boys. Girls need to sit in a certain way or behave in a certain way. Girls grow up with a hundred rules and regulations and so many take it as a way of life. But what happens if a girl is brought up as a boy, and then has to start “acting” like a girl once she gains puberty. Will these rules still be a “way of life?”
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is a book that deals with the tradition of Bacha Posh, where young girls are brought up as boys in families that do not have boys. Once the girls reach a marriageable age, they turn back into girls. The confusion that the protagonist faces is wonderfully expressed in the following lines:
I was a little girl and then I wasn’t. I was a bacha posh and then I wasn’t. I was a daughter and then I wasn’t. I was a mother and then I wasn’t.
The main story alternates between the lives of two women, Rahima and Shekiba. Rahima is a bacha posh who is then married off at the age of thirteen. Because of her earlier experience, the rules by which a girl has to live by, especially after they marry off, feels like a stark contrast to her earlier carefree life.
This story contains all the elements of a great novel. The story, the characters, the history, politics..everything is coupled with great narration.
This story is a great read, especially those who like to read about other cultures, and are interested in reading about the condition of women in society. I rate this book a perfect 4 out of 4.