The Pearl that Broke Its Shell: A Novel

( 58 )

Overview

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 ...

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The Pearl that Broke Its Shell: A Novel

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Overview

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-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?

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-05
Three Afghan sisters walk home from school, menaced by a boy on a bicycle. They escape, but the damage is done: no more school. Rahima and her sisters are devastated, but without a brother they have no one to chaperone them, no one to protect their honor, no one to discourage insults from other men. Rahima's aunt has an idea and begins telling her stories about her great-aunt Shekiba, who was viciously taunted after her face was scarred by an accident with cooking oil. When her immediate family died of cholera, Shekiba was left to the mercy of her scheming relatives, who practically enslaved her and then traded her away to serve another family. Desperate for a measure of freedom, she seized upon the cultural practice of bacha posh, which enabled any family without a son to dress a daughter as a boy. Of course, even a bacha posh must return to being a girl once she reaches maturity. Nonetheless, Shekiba's tale inspires Rahima to pass as a boy, too. Cutting her hair and donning pants lets her barter at the market, attend classes and play soccer with the boys. Everyone accepts her new position as a son. Even her parents exempt her from certain household duties better left to girls. Unfortunately, Rahima's opium-addicted father is indebted to a warlord, who has taken an interest in the 13-year-old. After having tasted freedom as a bacha posh, how can she return to the oppression inflicted upon women? Does Shekiba's story offer any answer? Hashimi's debut novel nimbly alternates between Shekiba's and Rahima's tales, drawing disturbing parallels between two women separated by a century. A lyrical, heartbreaking account of silenced lives.
Khaled Hosseini
“Nadia Hashimi has written, first and foremost, a tender and beautiful family story. Her always engaging multigenerational tale is a portrait of Afghanistan in all of its perplexing, enigmatic glory, and a mirror into the still ongoing struggles of Afghan women.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Hashimi weaves together two equally engrossing stories in her epic, spellbinding debut.”
Shilpi Somaya Gowda
“A fascinating look at the unspoken lives of Afghani women, separated by generations and miles, yet achingly similar. This is a story to transport you and make you think.”
Library Journal
05/01/2014
Set in Afghanistan, this emotionally engaging first novel uses alternating chapters to weave together the story of nine-year-old Rahima and her sisters with that of their great-great-grandmother Shekiba. Both Rahima and Shekiba share the experience of participating in bacha posh, in which young girls are dressed as and treated as boys until puberty. And like Shekiba, Rahima and her two older sisters endure the difficult and often horrific experience of being married off as young girls as second, third, or fourth wives to much older men. Although decades separate the distinctive stories of these women as they move from girlhood to adulthood, the hardships suffered by women in the Afghan culture remain the chilling tie that binds them. VERDICT Hashimi succeeds in crafting a novel that incorporates gripping stories of survival with passionate tales of motherhood and inner strength throughout. Filled with tragedy and triumph, this work is sure to be appreciated by readers who enjoy similarly told stories with strong protagonists by authors such as Lisa See and the Afghanistan-born Khaled Hosseini.—Shirley Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062244758
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/6/2014
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 112,541
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 58 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(36)

4 Star

(14)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 58 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 19, 2014

    The cover is stunning, absolutely beautiful! I love the title a

    The cover is stunning, absolutely beautiful! I love the title and felt that it went well with the theme of the book. If readers are aware of the traditional Muslim gender roles, in the Middle East, then this book shouldn’t be too much of a shock. There were many times that my heart ached over the way girls were treated vs. boys, the family expectations of women and multiple wives, the devaluation of a woman and the importance of birthing sons, and the inability to walk outside their home without men/boys attacking or harming them. While the religious culture is vastly different from that promotes gender equality, it is a story that needs to be told and highlighted to understand the themes in the storyline.

    Nadia writes so beautifully and shifts between the past and present flawlessly. Shekiba’s story is one that is filled with sorrow, sadness, but also has glimmers of hope and new beginnings. Her story read almost like a folktale, that can be passed down from generation to generation for young girls to be inspired and create change. I was so engrossed with Shekiba’s tale that it was hard to switch mentally to Rahima’s storyline. However, both stories switched back and forth seamlessly.

    Rahima is a little girl, who experiences both sides of the gender norms: as a boy and girl. As a girl, she experiences being bullied by the boys her age, the inability to walk to school safely, having to wear her burqua, the disappointment she sees in her father’s eyes, etc. As a boy, she experiences many freedoms of going to school without harassment, going to the story and bargaining/buying goods, having the time to socialize and play after school and not prepare meals, and the approval she gets from her father.

    Rahima lives in a household where the country is changing, having to see her father leave for bouts at a time, and have him return to a drunken/drugged stupor. She also hears the talks amongst the family in her house and their thoughts on family, politics/country, and the “girl talk” women have.

    This is a long book. It took me awhile to read, simply because it was so mesmerizing to learn and read about the culture in Afghanistan, the changing country, and how two families are impacted with gender roles, religion, and political climate change. It’s a beautiful book and one that will easily be compared to Khaled Hosseini and his lyrical style of writing, in a practical format, that people of all backgrounds will enjoy, cry, rejoice, and remember for a long time.-BooksintheBurbs

    25 out of 27 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2014

    Didn't even finish

    Yes, it's easy to read and flows BUT the author is quick to take the Lord's name in vain and cuss. Why?! So frustrating.

    12 out of 63 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2014

    Excellent. Very well written.

    Eye opener into the lives of these women.

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 17, 2014

    Absolutely exceptional. Beautiful intriguing story. Highly rec

    Absolutely exceptional. Beautiful intriguing story. Highly recommend this book.

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 26, 2014

    I found this book enlightening.  I, like most Americans, could n

    I found this book enlightening.  I, like most Americans, could not envision what these women have and are going thru in their daily lives.  Although totally different from our religious beliefs, I watched them holdfast to their religion even though it meant unendless suffering.  I could not put this book down.  You  do have to think about where you are - early 1900's or 2007 as you read.  Thank you, Nadia Hashimi, for sharing this story.  Fact or fiction, I needed to learn about this part of our world.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2014

    After reading this book, I am so appreciative of the life I lead

    After reading this book, I am so appreciative of the life I lead in America.  It makes me  thankful for all of the freedoms
    that women have here.  I had to keep reminding myself that the women in this book are not real.  It is very easy to become
    emotional involved with the characters.  

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2014

    Amazing

    I was struck by the story and cried with the characters.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2014

    I couldn't put this book down

    A very sad but true story that reveals what is still happening today in parts of the world





    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 23, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    A recipient of the Mom's Choice Awards! The Mom's Choice Awards®

    A recipient of the Mom's Choice Awards!
    The Mom's Choice Awards® (MCA) evaluates products and services created for parents and educators and is globally recognized for establishing the benchmark of excellence in family-friendly media, products and services. Using a rigorous evaluation process, entries are scored on a number of elements including production quality, design, educational value, entertainment value, originality, appeal and cost. Around the world, parents, educators, retailers and members of the media trust the MCA Honoring Excellence seal when selecting quality products and services for families and children.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2014

    Excellent

    Excellent

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2014

    Very well done.

    The interwoven stories of two Afghan girls was an good way to present this story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 22, 2014

    Likes it more than I thought!

    I really enjoyed this book, has left me thinking about it for several days. How females are treated is sinful, sad and hard to believe this is still going on. I was surprised that this book was really good and kept my interest. Hard to put down towards the end.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2014

    Interested at first, then got disgusted

    I like to learn about other cultures and so I generally like reading this type of book. However, not this time! I started out interested. As I kept reading I could only think about something Oprah had once said, "If you are born a girl in America, you are already the luckiest girl in the world."

    By the middle of the book, I was so disgusted with the way Muslims treat women that I now despise them as a whole. The correlation between the two women just proved to show that no progress has been made in the treatment of women over the decades.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 29, 2014

    ¿Shahla stood by our front door, the bright green metal rusting

    “Shahla stood by our front door, the bright green metal rusting on the edges.”
    So begins the story of Rahima and Shekiba. This book had me absolutely engrossed from the first word to the last period. And this is the author’s first book which makes it a remarkable piece of fiction in my opinion.
    The book is actually two stories. Rahima’s story starts first. She is a girl in Afghanistan and is about 9 when the story opens. Rahima’s story begins in the early 2000’s. She has 4 sisters and desperately wants to go to school but her father only lets the girls attend sporadically. Her father is a veteran of various wars in her region and is aligned with a local warlord who keeps him supplied with opium. The girls and their mother spend most of their time trying not to send their father into a rage. The bright spot in Rahima’s life is her aunt who tells the girls stories. One of these stories is about Shekiba who is Rahima’s great-great- grandmother and she lived in Afghanistan in the early 1900’s. Shekiba spent a period of her life disguised as a man and Rahima’s mother decides to do the same thing with Rahima and turns her into a boy. Rahima then enjoys the next couple of years of her life being a boy and getting to attend school and play games with the boys and do all the things that her sisters cannot do. Then one day a misunderstanding turns her world upside down.
    Shekiba’s story begins with an accident as a toddler that disfigures half of her face. Her family lives in a compound with the extended family but because of her disfigurement she repeatedly faces rejection from all but her immediate family. I found it especially interesting that she actually finds refuge in her burqa. The garment that we in the West see as a symbol of oppression actually allows Shekiba to leave her home without facing ridicule. Unfortunately, the tragedies for Shekiba continue to mount as she loses her loved ones and is used by her extended family as payment for debts. But she continues to seek more for her life in spite of her circumstances. The stories of Rahima and Shekiba are told alternately throughout the book and Rahima finds hope and courage through the stories of Shekiba.
    Both of these girls suffer through brutality and uncertainty in their lives but the stories show how the human spirit can triumph over adversity. It is unimaginable to me the challenges they faced and their ability to keep fighting and stay true to themselves.
    This book is a beautifully written debut novel. The characters really come to life and draw you into their worlds. This is a culture that I know almost nothing about and yet the stories of facing struggle and adversity are universal. And while I can’t relate to the circumstances of their daily lives the author does a great job of describing the worlds in which they live.


    I give this book 4 out of 4 stars and highly recommend it to those who like a good story or a glimpse into a different culture.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2015

    I Also Recommend:

    This is one of the BEST books I've read in a long time! I strong

    This is one of the BEST books I've read in a long time! I strongly recommend it, makes you appreciate what you have and the times we live in, good book.

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  • Posted December 28, 2014

    How quickly we forget!

    This beautiful story written about two women, a century apart, depicts the struggles of their life under the subjugation of a male dominated society. Both women find their way out of an imprisoned life enforced by the social norms of the respective era. Also, both women are given a brief respite from the confining life as a woman and experience life as a male. The difference is dramatic. Life for women in 2007 hasn't changed much for the Afghanistan woman. This is a beautifully written novel and a reminder to all women in this country of our newly attained freedom in just the last 100 years.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2014

    Eye-opening.

    This is a novel that showed me how luck I truely am, and inspired me with the women shown and their strength and faith. Truely a touching book that is an emotional marithon, but worth every step of it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2014

    Great book!

    Was a great read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2014

    I couldn't put this one down!

    Excellent writing. I loved the way the author shifted from past to present, comparing characters. This one kept me wanting more!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2014

    EXCELLENT HISTORICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL RENDITION

    A UNIQUE AND MOVING PORTRAYAL OF THE LIVES OF WOMEN WHO LIVE NARROWLY CIRCUMSCRIBED LIVES IN A TRADITION BOUND MIDDLE EASTERN TRIBAL SOCIETY. WITH SOCIAL CHANGE AND SURVIVAL CHALLENGES A CONSTANT FACTOR WOMEN THROUGH TIME STRUGGLE TO OVERCOME THEIR BURDENS AND ESCAPE THEIR PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL CONFINEMENT. A BEAUTIFULLY PRESENTED AND COMPASSIONATE READ THAT EVERY WOMAN SHOULD READ, AND MEN TOO WHO ARE LOOKING TO IMPROVE THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF THE NEEDS OF WOMEN.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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