Author: Nadia Hashimi
Publisher: William Morrow
Type of book: Afghanistan, education, teen marriages, sisterhood, sister-wives, Kabul, 2000s, 1900s, orphan, cholera, harem guard, duties, control, bacha posh, gender-bend
Year it was published: 2014
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?
I really liked and admired a lot of characters in the book: the first person I admired was Rahima's aunt Khala Shaima who was born with a crooked spine and is unmarried. But she values independence strongly and is literate and does her best to encourage Rahima and her female members of the family to do more. In order to do that, she tells Rahima and her sisters the story of their great-great grandmother, Shekiba. Rahima herself is best described as resourceful, plucky, frustrated and someone who is voiceless. She wants more for herself but isn't sure of how to go about it. She also is the one that becomes a bacha posh and learns what its like to be free and how stifling being a woman is. Although I liked Shekiba, for some odd reason I felt distanced from her character. Not sure why. She struck me as a bit, well, antiquated. Shekiba's face ends up being damaged and she also is forced to become her father's caretaker and then an orphan. However she leads a fascinating life and is used as an example for her descendants. There are other characters as well, but it would take me too long to list them I believe.
Treasure the education you were given
The book interweaves two stories: one is about Rahima, a descendant of Shekiba, and another is of Shekiba which is told by her aunt. Rahima is in first person narrative and the pacing seems to go quickly, and the times Rahima spent as a bacha posh is a bit glossed over. Shekiba is told in third person narrative from the aunt's point of view. There were some mistakes that did irritate me: sometimes Shekiba story contains first person narrative words which made it confusing for me, and a few times Rahima is in third person. What I also was amazed at was how isolated the women were from the world, that they had no idea who or what was going on! What I find interesting as well is that the book ends just when changes are promised. We aren't told of what happens to Shekiba after the speech towards the end, and I don't learn much about Rahima as if the author has plans on writing for the sequel.
Nadia Hashimi’s parents left Afghanistan in the 1970s, before the Soviet invasion. In 2002, Hashimi visited Afghanistan for the first time. She lives with her family in suburban Washington, D.C., where she works as a pediatrician.
What a wonderful and thought-provoking book. I've often wondered why education and reading is pushed on all sorts of people, even against their wills. (I have to admit that since I read a lot, I take it for granted on how much it can mean for someone who doesn't read a lot.) The book has really helped me answer these questions: one is the creativity aspect of the story, and another is something that people often forget: stories and reading are needed as examples to help figure out what to do with life or how to solve problems. This book really reminds me of those basics. While I enjoyed learning and reading it a great deal, it is important to note a few things: one thing is that it takes place in Kabul which is located in Afghanistan in the countryside which means that life and values are completely different than what we are familiar with in developed nations. And also something that bugged me a little is that the book didn't really positive relationships either between married couples (yes I get that most of the men were, well, bad) but I guess it might help if some positive marriages were also portrayed more. I also will mention that this book contains teen marriages and there really is a lot of abuse going on and not all of it is from men. Some of it is from sister-wives and from family members and even mothers-in-law. Despite these flaws, a thought-provoking book of how education and role models are important for women, especially those who don't have a voice.
This is for TLC Book Tour
Nadia’s Tour Stops
Wednesday, May 7th: The Gilmore Guide to Books
Thursday, May 8th: Lit and Life
Friday, May 9th: Books in the Burbs
Monday, May 12th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, May 12th: A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, May 13th: Drey’s Library
Wednesday, May 14th: Snowdrop Dreams of Books
Thursday, May 15th: West Metro Mommy
Wednesday, May 21st: Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, May 22nd: Time 2 Read
Monday, May 26th: BoundbyWords5 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)