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The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan [NOOK Book]

Overview

An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl

In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as “dressed up like a boy”) is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented ...

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

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Overview

An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl

In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as “dressed up like a boy”) is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom.

The Underground Girls of Kabul
is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents’ attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults.

At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America’s longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.




From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In Afghanistan, the birth of a son is an occasion of rejoicing; the birth of a daughter is often mourned as a sign of misfortune, even dishonor. To mitigate the shame, many families have fabricated a third gender, the "basha posh," girls dressed and presented as boys until they reach puberty. In The Underground Girls of Kabul, award-winning journalist Jenny Nordberg exposes this little-known practice, tracking it not as a curiosity but as the jumping-off point to several poignant portraits of women who were drafted into this misogynistic practice, many of whom responded in very different ways. Nordberg's profiles are subtle and sympathetic, giving this book an unexpected resonance; editor's recommendation.

Publishers Weekly
★ 05/26/2014
Alook at the furtive world of girls who pose as boys illuminates the cruelties of Afghanistan’s tradition of male supremacy in this searing exposé. Journalist Nordberg explores the lives of bacha posh—girls who are made over as boys so that their parents can claim the honor of having a son (or, according to folklore, improve their chances of conceiving a real one). Bacha posh experience what few Afghan females ever do: the freedom to go outside without a chaperone, speak their minds, and lead public lives—until adolescence arrives and they are forced back into femininity and sold off in arranged marriages to live in domestic confinement under their husband’s thumb. Nordberg’s vivid profiles of these girls takes in the quiet, harrowing struggles of other women in a society that accords them few rights. Included is a case of a charismatic woman who is a member of parliament and her family’s sole breadwinner—yet still helplessly subject to her husband’s abuse. Nordberg’s subtle, sympathetic reportage makes this one of the most convincing portraits of Afghan culture in print; through a small breach in the wall of gender apartheid, she reveals the harsh ironies of a system that so devalues women that it forces them to become men. Agent: David Halpern, The Robbins Office. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2014

Finalist for the Goodreads Choice Award, Nonfiction

“Through extensive interviews with former bacha posh, observation of present ones and conversations with doctors and teachers, Nordberg unearths details of a dynamic that one suspects will be news to the armies of aid workers and gender experts in post-invasion Afghanistan.”–New York Times Book Review

“Jenny Nordberg has produced a striking and nuanced work that explores the current status of Afghan women through one of their subcultures...[A] finely written book.”–Washington Post

“Five years of intensive reporting have yielded this gritty, poignant, and provocative collage of intimate portraits…Nordberg conveys captivating nuance and complexity; just when you feel some kind of judgment or conclusive opinion is within reach, she deftly turns the tables, leaving us to reexamine our own prejudices and societal norms as we struggle with questions that are perhaps unanswerable.”–Elle

“Nordberg’s immersive reporting reveals an astonishingly clear picture of this resourceful, if imperfect, solution to the problem of girlhood in a society where women have few rights and overwhelming restrictions.”–The Boston Globe

“Nordberg’s book is riveting, bringing a practice previously unknown to the West to light, and continuing to elucidate the plight of Afghan women, whose supposed inferiority is so ingrained in their culture that Western feminism can make few inroads.”–Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Nordberg's intimate exploration leaves us rooting for her brave subjects.”–Mother Jones

“Nordberg creates a moving intimacy with these stories, weaving them into the bigger picture of contemporary Afghanistan. Diving deep into the lives and hearts of people who are usually ignored, she reveals the enormity of a localized struggle even while grounding it in broader human experience, never allowing the reader to reduce her subjects to curiosities.”–DallasMorningNews.com

“In clear, simple prose, Nordberg describes her encounters with several current or former bacha posh, including a nurse who kept the role until a month before her wedding, a tae kwon do instructor who now guides younger “underground girls,” and an adolescent still resisting being turned into a woman… The book raises provocative questions about gender roles in Afghanistan and beyond.”–The Columbus Dispatch

“Fascinating… Nordberg manages to capture the strength of these women, as well as their vulnerabilities, to show the psychological toll bacha posh has on those who endure it, and the ability of women to adapt to the constricts society places on them.” –ForeignPolicy.com

“In fluid narrative style, Nordberg explores the [bacha posh] phenomenon through compelling individual portraits… In addition to presenting a rare glimpse of Afghan life, The Underground Girls of Kabul explores the ways that gender identity is shaped and policed. Extending well beyond Afghanistan, this book compels the reader to rethink gender differences.”—Straight.com
 
“The Underground Girls of Kabul is an outstanding work of journalism that uncovers new information about an important subject. It’s also an extraordinarily well-written book, full of riveting stories about the real lives of girls and women in Afghanistan today.” –PopMatters.com

“[A] searing exposé…Nordberg's subtle, sympathetic reportage makes this one of the most convincing portraits of Afghan culture in print.” –Publishers Weekly [starred]

“A stunning book… Nordberg has done some staggering work in this unique, important, and compelling chronicle. Book clubs will be riveted, and will talk for hours.” –Booklist [starred]

“As affecting as the stories of these women are, Nordberg’s conclusion—that women’s rights are essential to ‘building peaceful civilizations’—is the most powerful message of this compelling book. An intelligent and timely exploration into contemporary Afghanistan.” – Kirkus Reviews

“The Underground Girls of Kabul is a groundbreaking feat of reportage, a kaleidoscopic investigation into gender, resistance, and the limits of cross-cultural understanding. Jenny Nordberg is a riveting storyteller and she has an astonishing tale to tell.” –Michelle Goldberg, author of The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World

“Jenny Nordberg has given us a fascinating look into a hidden phenomenon of extreme patriarchal societies: a form of gender-bending far riskier and more rewarding than Western academia's trendy, abstract gender categories. Nordberg's reporting is thorough and sensitive, her writing vivid and insightful. You will not forget this book; it will haunt you.” – Robin Morgan

The Underground Girls of Kabul is a brilliant, urgent, groundbreaking work. It is a call to action, and a reminder that even under the greatest abuses of power women have found ways to fight and flourish. The inspiring story of the bacha posh is not just a tale of ingenuity and survival in Afghanistan. It is an excavation of the deep and insidious roots of global misogyny, and an offering of hope.” —Cara Hoffman, author of Be Safe I Love You

The Underground Girls of Kabul draws back the curtain on the world of bacha posh, young Afghan girls whose families disguise them as boys and raise them, until adolescence intervenes, as sons. Jenny Nordberg's book is a tremendous feat of reporting and storytelling: until her work on the custom of bacha posh was published in the New York Times, the practice had never been systematically documented, and her narrative is so finely-observed that it often reads like fiction. Nordberg's curiosity, her humor, and her genuine warmth for her subjects come through on every page.” – Katherine Zoepf, fellow, the New America Foundation

The Underground Girls of Kabul is a riveting, firsthand account of what life as a girl is like in Afghanistan and how it often means becoming a boy.  Jenny Nordberg has written a compelling and important work that exposes the profound gender prejudice that exists, in different forms, all over the world.” –Jennifer Clement, author of Prayers for the Stolen

“Forget everything you thought you knew about gender and what it means to be a woman or man. Jenny Nordberg’s exquisitely reported look at why Afghans choose to raise their girls as boys is nothing less than heartbreaking, mind-bending, and mesmerizing—not to mention timely.”—Lauren Wolfe, director of Women’s Media Center’s Women Under Siege

“Nordberg brings to light a world that no Afghan speaks of, but everyone knows: the world of girls raised as boys, usually until puberty.  In a society where being a girl means living as chattel, and where families without boys are shamed, the bacha posh tradition arose, as it has in other highly patriarchal societies.  Going deeper, Nordberg discovers that the bacha posh, once adults, become a subversive force: having tasted freedom and opportunity, these women can never go back.  They stand up—for themselves, their daughters, and their country.  The former bacha posh may yet change Afghanistan for the better . . . Nordberg’s book is a pioneering effort to understand this hidden world.” –Valerie M. Hudson, professor and George H.W. Bush Chair, The Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University
 
“The investigation into bacha posh gives a new and unique perspective on the women’s situation, gender and resistance in Afghanistan. The author tells the story with empathy and respect for the women who have let her into their lives. This book will interest both those who want to learn about Afghanistan and those wanting to understand how gender works, and it is a must-read for both Afghanistan and gender specialists.” –Sari Kouvo, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network

The Underground Girls of Kabul is an amazing book. The fact that Nordberg brings this to light is eye-opening to everyone—even to Afghans. It is the truth that many Afghans live with it as part of their life.”–Naheed Bahram, program director of Women for Afghan Women

Kirkus Reviews
2014-06-25
A journalist’s fascinating study of the Afghan subculture of young girls raised to be boys.In post-Taliban Afghanistan, men are still all-powerful. Women—even those who wield some political influence—live mostly in a state of servitude. Yet some girls manage to enjoy the privileges of being male by living as boys. Known asbacha posh, these young females are usually members of families in which the only children are girls. They “become” boys through family fiat and then live as males “as long as the lie will hold or as long as the community goes along with it,” which usually means until adolescence. To better understand this phenomenon, Nordberg not only researched the histories ofbachas,but also interviewed and observed them throughout various life stages. She tells the story of Mehran, the young fourth daughter of a female politician who “needed” a son to reinforce her family’s “good standing and reputation” in the community, as well as her own in the Afghan parliament. With several years until adolescence, Mehran could live in the happy freedom denied her sisters. However, as Nordberg shows through the story of Zahra, puberty—and the return to the second-class citizenship of womanhood it implied—could be gut-wrenchingly traumatic. For Shukria, being abacha poshrendered her unable to desire men and eventually made her undesirable to her husband, who divorced her. But for Nader, who managed to continue living as a man into adulthood, her third gender status inspired her to coach youngerbachaslooking to resist Afghan patriarchy and remain autonomous. As affecting as the stories of these women are, Nordberg’s conclusion—that women’s rights are essential to “building peaceful civilizations”—is the most powerful message of this compelling book.An intelligent and timely exploration into contemporary Afghanistan.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307952516
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/16/2014
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 15,257
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

JENNY NORDBERG is an award-winning journalist based in New York. A correspondent and columnist for Swedish national newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, she has a long record of investigative reports for, among others, The New York Times, where she also contributed to a series that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. In 2010, she was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism for a television documentary on Afghan women. She is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
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Interviews & Essays

Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Jenny Nordberg

In The Underground Girls of Kabul, the talented, tenacious Jenny Nordberg delivers subtle, sympathetic portraits and a fresh perspective on the plight of women in a deeply segregated society by uncovering the lives of the bacha posh, Afghan girls allowed to live freely in society — dressed and acting as boys — until marriage. Nordberg discusses turning her newspaper reportage into a full-length book, working in Afghanistan, and what she learned from her subjects in a conversation for the Barnes & Noble Review. —Miwa Messer, Director, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program

Who are the bacha posh of Afghanistan?

Bacha posh is the term for a girl who is "dressed up like a boy." These children are part of a hidden practice in which parents disguise daughters as sons. Instead of wearing a headscarf and a skirt or a dress, a little girl will get a short haircut and a pair of pants, and she'll be sent off into the world as one of the boys. The bacha posh look like boys, they learn to behave like boys, and to those around them who don't know, they are Afghan boys.

Why are girls disguised as boys in Afghanistan?

It's a creative, some would say desperate way to buck the system in a suppressive, gender-segregated society. In Afghanistan, men make most of the decisions and women and girls hold very little value. From the moment she is born, an Afghan girl has very few rights and little control over her own life. She often cannot leave the house without an escort. She must guard her behavior and appear modest at all times. (For a girl to ride a bike, for instance, would be seen by many as inappropriate.)

For Afghan girls, posing as a boy opens up a whole new world. It affords a girl freedom of movement; for some that means a chance to go to school, for others the ability to work and to support their families. In every case, it allows her to see and experience things most girls and young women in Afghanistan never do.

When you first broke the story of Afghanistan's bacha posh in a 2010 New York Times article, it drew millions of views and a massive response from readers worldwide. What drew you to this topic and inspired you to expand the article into a full-length book?

This is the story of a lifetime. How often does a journalist come upon an actual secret that holds the promise of a journey straight into the unknown, where no one has gone before? It also cuts right to the most difficult questions of human existence: war, oppression, and the differences between men and women. When I first discovered and started researching the bacha posh, I was frustrated to find that none of the Western experts on Afghanistan I consulted had any idea about this practice. In time, I realized I had to become the expert.

Furthermore, as a woman, the experience of bacha posh opens a window onto a very raw form of patriarchy, where my kind is unwanted, despised, and abused. Writing a full-length book gave me the space to go much more in-depth on this issue and to try to understand why that is.

I also hope that my book will reach an even broader audience; as a reader of my original Times piece said: "What woman hasn't," she wrote, "wondered how life would have been different if she had been born a boy?" Her comment helped me realize that this is not just a story about Afghanistan — it's a story about all women and the history we share, and that should be read and understood by women (and men) everywhere.

Most bacha posh are forced to become girls before they hit puberty, sometimes after living their whole lives as boys. What kind of lasting impact — if any — did this have on the women you interviewed?

My research, based on interviews with dozens of bacha posh, shows that the impact on adult females depends very much on when their transition back to the female gender takes place. A few years as a boy when they are children may be remembered as an empowering experience. But for those who go through puberty and beyond as young men, things quickly become much more complicated. Aside from the psychological conundrum, those who are nurtured as boys and young men through their teens and beyond can see a delay in the development of female identity and even the onset of puberty. It's an example of how the mind affects the body. Bacha posh really is a unique, current-day nurture versus nature experiment.

To research and write this book, you have spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan over the past few years. What was it like?

Working in a country at war can be physically and mentally exhausting; you're on high alert most of the time. There's a feeling that there is no time to lose, because who knows for how long you can be lucky and not be in the wrong place when a blast goes off? Imagine how Afghans feel, who have lived with this for more than thirty years. The good side of it is that Afghans are extremely polite and hospitable, and there is very little time for indecision or procrastination; interactions are much more immediate. With the constant presence of potential disaster, life takes sharper contours. And you laugh a lot together.

You reported this book from Afghanistan and worked closely with its subjects. Did you become friends with the women you interviewed for the book?

A classic tenet of journalism warns that a journalist should not make friends with her subjects. But I believe you can be a professional and a human being at the same time. With all my main characters, I have developed an intimate, respectful bond. Over the years I've asked them to tell me things they have never spoken of before, about their bodies, about sex, about religion — all the forbidden topics. In return, I have also shared some of my secrets with them.

At the same time, there were no blurred lines about who the journalist was and who the subjects were. Each of these very brave women made a conscious choice to be part of this book, and I have tried to honor that by offering a lot of transparency about my work. For instance, when I had a somewhat finished book manuscript in the summer of 2013, I went back to Kabul to see each of them again. We read it together, and for those who could not read, I read it out loud. Some details were added; others were taken out. Together we have tried to be careful and protect their families. In the end, I hope I have done them and their courage justice, and they have told me that they hope people will want to know about them. This is a dispatch from inside extreme suppression, from those who just happen to have been born in the most dangerous place on earth to be a woman.

October 15, 2014

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Reading Group Guide

1. The Underground Girls of Kabul features several women who find ways to resist and subvert power—including Azita, whose status is elevated by disguising her daughter as a son; Mehran, who is able to confidently roughhouse with boys her own age; and Zahra, who fights her parents to maintain her male identity after puberty. Which woman’s story did you find most interesting? Why?

2. Although Afghanistan and its conflicts have been well-covered, the book offers a different entry point into the lives of people there. Before reading this book what (if anything) did you know about Afghanistan? What did you find surprising about the country and its history in reading this book?

3. Do you think the practice of bacha posh is subversive, with the potential to change the strict gender culture of Afghanistan? Or do you see it as women capitulating to and reinforcing a system of segregation?

4. Some of the girls who are raised as bacha posh do not want to go back to living as women. How do you think you would react if you were in their position?

5. After reading the book, does the practice of bacha posh make sense to you or is it entirely foreign? How would you explain why this happens?

6. The author outlines a pervasive culture of violence and extreme segregation. Which part of the story, if any, made you angry? Why?

7. What historical and current-day parallels to bacha posh, pretending to be someone or something else due to segregation or oppression can you think of: real or fictional, in different countries, for different reasons?

8. Are the lives of Afghan women entirely different from those of women in the West, or do you see similarities in how we behave and how we live? What are those?

9. Do you agree that there is also a “culture of honor” in our society, where girls should be pure and boys should be aggressive and protective? Where do you see examples of that in the reporting of daily news or in your own life?

10. Many of the women in this book experience the limits of female freedom, even if they have had success. For example, Azita has risen from a small Afghan village to occupy a place in parliament, but she is still very limited in what she can do and how far she can reach. Is there a limit to how far most women can get in our own society today? Why is that?

11. In an interview about the book, Jenny Nordberg said that the story of the bacha posh “cuts right to the most difficult questions of human existence: war, oppression, and the difference between men and women.” Do you agree? Why are the differences between men and women so important to us?

12. Jenny Nordberg raises questions about whether or not gender is dichotomous, and she even calls bacha posh “a third kind of child”—neither boy nor girl. What do you think: Are we born a certain way or do we become our gender?

13. Under what circumstances would you consider raising a daughter as a son? And in what situation or circumstance could you imagine disguising yourself in exchange for greater freedom?

14. Did you ever wonder how things would have been different had you been born a child of the other gender?  Did you ever wish, at any stage in your life or in a particular circumstance, that you could be a different gender?

15. For the female reader: Did you ever dress in a less feminine and more traditionally male or conservative way to be taken seriously? Why is that important?

16. For the male reader: What traits that are considered traditionally female have you ever wished you could display more openly, if any? Do you feel a pressure to appear manly in the sense of protecting one’s family; to appear capable; et cetera?

17. In what way were you treated like a boy or a girl, respectively, when you were little? Were there things you absolutely couldn’t do due to your gender? Do you see a future in which gender roles will be less strict, and how is that a good or a bad thing for men and women?

18. Do you agree with the author’s conclusion that women’s rights are essential to human rights and to building peaceful civilizations? Why or why not?

19. What would you tell the author or any of these women? They would love to hear from you. We invite you to continue the conversation on bachaposh.com or to connect with Jenny Nordberg on Twitter: @nordbergj

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 16, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    This book exceeded my expectations. I knew little about the fema

    This book exceeded my expectations. I knew little about the females of the Middle East and this book enlightened me about the Afghanistan population, more than I ever imagined. If you could see my copy, you would know that I enjoyed this book immensely. I have pages of notes pertaining to this book that have opened my eyes and I have talked about this book with many others, it has definitely made an impact on my life. Gender equality, gender power and gender identity issues are words that run deep in this region of the world. I was shocked to learn just how important sons were for this region, so important that a female in the household will dress and act as a male to play this role should a boy not be born into the household. How long they hold out in this charade depends on a few factors which the author digs into and shows us, the reader. The author brings to us the lives of a few individuals who are walking in these very shoes. I found their lives very fascinating and interesting. The pros and the cons are examined and I felt that the author provided a very thoroughly job explaining this complicated life which is so different from our very own but also has a few characteristics of issues that we deal with here in our own country. The author addresses many subjects in the book surrounding the female individual including marriage, jobs, divorce and children. The author brings us personal stories and females who have walked the walk in these different situations so we hear firsthand what their lives were like and/or what they are experiencing firsthand. There is nothing like hearing it come from a person who has actually lived in those conditions. I felt so connected and informed about the females in this region and I know bits of my heart were breaking but to them, they knew no different. I could sing praises of this book forever and I know my husband is probably sick of me reading quotes of the book to him so read this book. The author will take you on a journey where you will meet some individuals who are trying to rise above it all.

    Thank you Goodreads for my copy of this book. This is my own opinion of this book.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted October 11, 2014

    Enlightening

    I was so unaware that my knowledge of the Afghan peoples and cultures was so miniscule! I AM NOW MUCH MORE ENLIGHTENED,SADDENED AND EMPOWERED TO LEARN MORE TO HELP

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 20, 2014

    NOTE: In view of the non-fictional account of true events within

    NOTE: In view of the non-fictional account of true events within this book, this will most likely be an unqualified book review because you really can’t critique what is factual; like, the characters and the stories in this hardcover.

    Alright so here’s the scoop: I have sat at my desk holding this book tightly against my chest, all while staring at a blank post template for countless minutes, unable to decide how I should proceed with this review. Only to end up walking away completely defeated, and ultimately disappearing under my covers, all while sobbing and whispering faint, “I can’t! I can’t! I cant’s!” into my crushed reality, because the truth of the matter is, how do you even begin to review factual events that are taking place today without opening a floor for debate? I for one, do not like debates; especially, around events as heavy-handed as these.

    Granted, a story of this magnitude should be told, there’s no arguing that, and it goes without saying, Jenny Nordberg writes this emotional narrative with so much grace and humility. For one, she carries the narration of the story without hysterics; not once, does she shame, degrade or disprove the people of Afghanistan or their culture; nor does she, retaliate against the opposition. I commend her conduct and inclination to avoid disparagement, but at the same time, I would love to know how she truly felt given the circumstances surrounding the prose.

    With that in mind, I remember with almost painful clarity the way in which Jenny collectedly painted the unsanitary conditions within the hospitals of Afghanistan where Afghan women lay helplessly in labor awaiting their eventual fate: 

    If a daughter is born, it is not uncommon for a new mother to leave this delivery room in tears. She will return to the village, her head bowed in shame, where she may be derided by relatives and neighbors. She could be denied food for several days. She could be beaten or relegated to the outhouse to sleep with animals as punishment for bringing the family another burden. And if the mother of a newborn has several daughters already, her husband may be ridiculed as a weakling with whom nature refuses to cooperate, a mada posht. Translation: “He whose woman will only deliver girls.” 

    The only thing I feel right now, is the weight of my own tears as I just finished sharing this quote with you. . .

    I experienced this book in a fairly odd way too, during the time when the influence of ISIS began to overrun the Middle East, the time when I had just finished reading The Kite Runner, and during the time when I was deeply involved in my community’s House of Prayer; praying for the Middle East in specific. Therefore, my emotions and my thoughts were in a whirlwind of chaos. Needless to say, I often times read and received the stories of these women in a sort of shell-shocked, wide-eyed paralysis. 

    The Underground Girls of Kabul, is a great book -allow me to rephrase that, it is a praiseworthy informative book, but it reads similar to a distressing and painful inhumanity of a Holocaust memoir, and for this reason, my recommendation is in a mixed bag.

    I am afraid that is all I can truly say; I don’t know if this is a book I could recommend because it is slightly different from most of the books I speak highly of. Even so, it is a must read as it will pluck you from the norm of the popular fictional realms and will hurl you into a reality that will give you a closer look at what is really taking place in the world around us.

    IN A NUTSHELL:
    // Jenny Nordberg delivers a powerfully written narrative that sheds light on what it’s like to be a woman in Afghanistan. More respectively, “The worst country in the world to be a woman”, according to the United Nations

    // It is a story about survival as well as the short comings the most silenced voices in our society are forced to confront

    // If you are debating on whether to read this book or not, please know that it is not a light read by any means; nor is it a “feel good” story either; on the contrary! It convicts and poses questions about your own humanity and society 

    // The novel reads just like a documentary

    // It is a story about families that are compelled to disguise their daughter’s gender for the purpose of acquiring income and legitimacy; without a son, a family is seen as weak and vulnerable

    // I personally valued the book. It kind of just makes you want to hold your little girls and tell them how much you love them, and just sob! It’s worth the read, but with reservations


    3 THINGS I LIKED:
    + The book cover and overall presentation of the book is stunning. There is an itemized table of contents, a detailed index, an author’s note with follow-up accounts of each character’s life story, and the edge of the pages have a vintage look to them; I love it!

    + Jenny Nordberg who risked her own life in order to raise awareness about the practice of bacha posh and the conflicts the women in Afghanistan face. I know that a simple thank you will never be enough to express how incredibly grateful I am for your book, but in all seriousness, thank you. From the bottom of my heart. 

    + Despite the incomprehensible religion and customs, I came to discover that many of the women in Afghanistan who have once lived as a bacha posh, stand proud in their ethnicity and take pride in their country. Like Azita for example, a former parliamentarian whose life Nordberg explores in great detail. Azita is a respectable revolutionary and out of all the characters, she gave me hope and I long to see some sort of reformation through her life, and that of Nordberg’s

    3 THINGS I DID NOT LIKE:
    - "The Taliban leadership also argued for sexual abstinence and maintained that contact between men and women in society should be avoided, as it would only serve to weaken warriors.” For a group of men who long to rule a male dominant society, I have to wonder, do they realize that women are necessary in order to produce. . .well, more men? Are they that ignorant to the fact that they sometimes go as far as to murder their own little girls because they are a “burden?” I just cannot comprehend this barbaric belief; it’s inhumane!

    - "The responsibility for men’s behavior, indeed for civilization itself, rests entirely with women here, and in how they dress and behave. Men’s animalistic impulses are presumed   to be overwhelming and uncontrollable. An as men are brutal, brainless savages, women must hide their bodies to avoid being assaulted. In most societies, a respectable woman, to varying degrees, is expected to cover up. If she doesn’t, she is inviting assault. Any woman who gets into “trouble” by drawing too much attention from men will have only herself to blame.” 

    - It is frightening to think after reading this book, that this is a prevalent issue in our modern-day. Frankly, I struggled to reason how when a bacha posh reaches the age of puberty, it’s suddenly convenient to reverse the gender roles as if it is not a difficult process. This has got to be a complex psychological struggle for every bacha posh female! I especially saw this in Zahra’s story

    Overall Rating: 
    Storyline | 5/5 
    Characters | 5/5 
    Violence | Moderate
    Profanities | None
    Sexual Content | Minor 
    Mature subjects/themes include, but are limited to:  loss of a loved one, death, assault, family strife, arranged marriages, discrimination; especially against women and little girls, cross dressing, social conflict, politics, warfare, coming of age, sexism, fundamentalist cultures, Taliban, Islam, honor killings

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 28, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    In a country where a family¿s worth is dependent on their having

    In a country where a family’s worth is dependent on their having a son, some Afghans have found a creative way to circumvent the system. It’s more common than you’d expect, rarely discussed in polite company, and has been going on for generations. What do they do, you ask? Why, they raise their daughters as sons. In a stunning story of a trend discovered completely by accident, Nordberg takes us on a journey through Afghanistan and into the lives of families, and women, who are bucking tradition.




    The Underground Girls of Kabul is an incredible story about what it takes to survive in an oppressive culture and the creative ways families find to survive within it. The fact that Nordberg stumbled across this trend completely by accident only adds to the book, for the reader feels like he/she is learning each new piece of information alongside the author. Her curiosity and ability to coax families to open up is stunning, making this a book that everyone should read.




    Allison @ The Book Wheel

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