Wednesday, May 7, 2014
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi
Published May 2014 by William Morrow
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review
Kabul, 2007: The Taliban rules the streets. With a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can rarely leave the house or attend school. Their only hope lies in the ancient Afghan custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a son until she is of marriageable age. As a boy, she has the kind of freedom that was previously unimaginable . . . freedom that will transform her forever.
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 in the same way—the change took her on a journey from the deprivation of life in a rural village to the opulence of a king’s palace in the bustling metropolis of Kabul.
Crisscrossing in time, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell interweaves the stories of these two remarkable women who are separated by a century but share the same courage and dreams. What will happen once Rahima is old enough to marry? How long can Shekiba pass as a man? And if Rahima cannot adapt to life as a bride, how will she survive?
If you've been reading this blog for very long, you know how much I love books set in the Middle East. So it won't surprise you that I jumped at the chance to read this book set in Afghanistan. In fact, I'm not sure I read much further into the pitch than to find out where it was set. Add to that the fact that it's a book about women living in a country controlled by its men. To saw that this book is in my wheelhouse would be an understatement.
For some reason, though, I had a tough time getting swept away with the book. Perhaps I've just read too many books recently with two different stories set in two different times that tie together. It's a style that doesn't always work for me, one story often overshadowing the other. That was not the case with this book, however.
Both stories equally interested me but I very often had a hard time focusing on the story line I was reading, wishing I were reading the other story. For me, I think each of the stories would have made a fine book on their own and would have benefited from a bit more fleshing out. Still, it was interesting to have the two stories together, to see how little some things have changed in Afghanistan in 100 years. At least outside of the cities, it appears that the Taliban are not the only men who have very little respect for women. Sadly, the book doesn't give me much hope that women will ever be able to achieve anything approaching freedom, to say nothing of equality.
Although it did take me some time to get involved in the book, I eventual found myself racing through it, nervous for Rahima and Shekiba as they tried to find their places in life and break free of the men (and women) who abused them.
In the U.S., we like to think we're the good guys and that we're backing the good guys in other countries. Now, we know this isn't true, but we don't really want to delve to deeply into it. Hashimi makes readers look at the political workings of modern Afghanistan and question just who we've been backing over the years. Any book that makes me think and that teaches me as much as this one did is a winner for me.
check out the full tour.
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.