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

Take a country who rejoices in the birth of a boy and buries one’s face like at a funeral at the birth of a baby girl and you have Afghanistan.  Journalist Jenny Nordberg treads the path of the streets of Afghanistan in search of a common activity in the country, namely bacha posh.  This action taken by many families amounts to treating a young girl like she was a boy all the way until puberty.  She dresses like a boy, eats like a boy, and even carries herself and all her mannerisms like a boy.  What seems like a terrible and frightful thing is in fact, in some circumstances, a way of shielding one’s children from harm.

In the begging we meet Azita, whose fourth daughter Mehran, is turned into a boy.  Azita is very well to do parliamentarian in Afghanistan with a solid education behind her.  Early on, Azita says, “They gossip about my family.  When you have no sons; it is a big missing, and everyone feels sad for you” (13).  We also meet Dr. Fareiba, who helps women with their pregnancy from far and wide in Afghanistan.  Nordberg writes as she witnesses the work of Dr. Fareiba, “A total of four or five children is perfectly acceptable to most parents in Afghanistan – but only if that number includes mostly boys.  The life expectancy of a woman here is forty-four years, and she spends much of it being pregnant.  Most couples know how to limit pregnancies if they want to, but the pressure to have another son often overrides any concern for a woman’s survival” (42).  Then we meet Zahra, for “She knows her power is in the exterior, and her walk successfully signals that she is a typical teenage boy with some attitude” (98).  Yet, Nordberg mentions that the Taliban explicitly forbade women wearing men’s clothing but this didn’t stop them from treating women poorly. 

It is hard to imagine a culture in which God’s good creation, women, are spitefully spit on and seen as none other than refuse.  Yet, the reporting of Nordberg helps us unenlightened Westerners a glimpse into the world of Afghanistan.


Thanks to Blogging for Books and Crown Publishers for the copy of this book in exchange for an hones review.

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