The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi is a look into the lives of two women from Kabul, Afghanistan in 2009. Hashimi presents the readers with the customs of the Afghan people and current standards to which women are still held up to portray. Although it is a fictional story, it is timely and is similar to many situations these women currently face.
“A luminous and unforgettable tale of two women, destiny, and identity in Afghanistan
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?” – The Pearl That Broke Its Shell
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is a very different novel than I have read before. The characters and situations in it are in Afghanistan, and shows how being a woman or a girl there is actually like, and it isn’t pretty. We know this from news reports we may have watched, head about, or read in an article. However, none of that gives you a feel for what it is like for these women. Nadia Hashimi does an excellent job portraying how their lives are like by weaving it into a beautiful story that illustrates much more than I could ever give it justice in a review.
The main character of Rahima, takes on the “bacha posh” which means she’ll get to dress up and act like a boy, until she is of age to be sold to be married. She is given freedoms that she never otherwise would have had growing up as a girl. Her great-great-grandmother Shekiba also did this, a century earlier, and even served as a guard to the King’s harem.
The overall story was exceptionally well written, and I would even re-read this one again. I learned a lot from the characters in it, and found a new appreciation for women of this country, and ones under similar circumstances. I highly recommend it.
* Thank you to the publisher of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, William Morrow, for providing me with a copy of this book for review. All opinions expressed are my own.