Things I Didn’t Know: The Underground Girls of Kabul

“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

By Louise Erdrich | Birchbark Books | December 12, 2014

Last August we were sorting through the advanced readers copies that had collected on the bookstore shelves. My daughter Pallas picked up The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg.  I thought I’d seen the last of that book, but Pallas came back for Christmas and put that reading copy in my hands.  She told me to read it, I did, and now I have to say to you.  READ THISThe Underground Girls of Kabul is subtitled: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan.  This book.  If you read it, you will never forget Azita, Mehran, Zahra, Shukria, or Shahed — all women who have been raised as boys in Afghanistan — and then forced to return to being women.  Nordberg explores a cultural practice that astonished me.  It makes sense — to “make” a girl at birth into a boy, for at least part of her life, is to give her a taste of what it is to be human.  To have a will.  Often, it is a magical practice that will supposedly prompt a woman’s body to produce a male.  Most hauntingly, one of these women became a “brother” to a real brother in order to protect him from possible poisoning by a previous wife in a polygamous marriage.  She ate everything and drank everything before her brother.  You will not stop reading this book until you find out what happens to these women — what is happening to them now.

via Things I Didn’t Know.

Jenny Nordberg
Jenny Nordberg
Jenny Nordberg is a New York-based foreign correspondent and a columnist for Swedish national newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

In 2010, she broke the story of “bacha posh” – how girls grow up disguised as boys in gender-segregated Afghanistan. The front page story was published in The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, and Nordberg’s original research was used for opinion pieces around the world and inspired several works of fiction.

Her latest project, The Underground Girls of Kabul, reveals entirely new and previously unknown aspects of the practice and goes deep into the gender segregation and resistance among women in Afghanistan. Five years in the making, this cross-border investigation is described by Publisher’s Weekly as “one of the most convincing portraits of Afghan culture in print.” She is also developing bachaposh.com as an online resource for girls who have grown up as boys due to segregation.

From School Library Journal

The girls portrayed in this book are not resisting with weapons or spying: they are simply living their lives as boys. The reasons are varied. The family needs help in a store. Women need a “male” relative to walk them on errands. Many girls call their status as a “boy” a type of magic—by showing that the family is ready for a boy, a real male child may arrive. Often, members of the community know the child is really a girl, but accept this gender switch and go along with the ruse. Nordberg focuses her narrative on the adult Azita. Her father educated her, but once she reached her prime childbearing years, she was married off to a rural, illiterate cousin. Somehow, Azita manages to win a government seat in her new district. Western readers will root for Azita to find a way out of this fiercely patriarchal arrangement, but Nordberg is astounding in her ability to elicit sympathy and rage for the women portrayed, while also attempting to explain why more elaborate female resistance may not yet be possible. Teenagers will find a great deal to think about in this well-researched and readable piece of reporting.—Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

***I will be back posting in a few days…Lara Trace (lots to write about!)

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