Author: Jenny Nordberg
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Summary: This was a very enjoyable story, but a very sad reality.
In Afghanistan, where a son is viewed as an honor and daughters are viewed as a burden, it is not uncommon for a family to temporarily raise a daughter as a son. This can happen because the family needs the financial help of having a working son; because the family wants to increase their standing in the community; or because of the superstitious belief that raising a pretend son will help a woman give birth to a boy. Girls raised in this way are typically treated as women once they reach puberty. Some find this experience helps them survive a world dominated by men while others struggle with their return to womanhood because of the oppression they then face.
This book was a truly fantastic example of narrative nonfiction. The stories the author shared were riveting. I loved hearing about the many different experiences of these girls treated as boys and couldn’t wait to find out what happened to each of them. The interviews conducted with each girl or woman were interesting and moving. I also enjoyed the history of women’s rights in Afghanistan and the discussions of social mores the author worked into the stories of individuals. The organization of the book was very clever, first discussing children then teenagers then the few adult women still living as men. It made me feel that I got a complete story even though the book couldn’t reasonably follow one woman for her entire life.
In a way, I wish that this had been fiction. I loved reading these stories, but unlike The War on Women in Israel, this book didn’t leave me with a whole lot of hope that things are going to get better anytime soon. Religious and economic factors in Afghanistan are complicated and foreign powers interfering in the region hasn’t helped. Women’s rights efforts are often not a priority among outsiders trying to affect change in Afghanistan and even when they are, the change only lasts as long as foreign power supports it. If you want to learn more about these girls raised as boys (known as bacha posh) you can read about them at the author’s website. Overall, this was an enjoyable story to read, but it was depressing that it’s true.