The Underground Girls of Kabul

September 21, 2014 Biography, History, Narrative Non-Fiction, non-fiction, Review 19 ★★★★

The Underground Girls of KabulTitle: The Underground Girls of Kabul
Author: Jenny Nordberg
Source: NetGalley
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

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.


19 Responses to “The Underground Girls of Kabul”

  1. Charlotte @ Thoughts and Pens

    And it’s not only in Afghanistan that this said truth is happening (referring to giving more importance to boys than girls). It’s also happening in China, India and perhaps, other countries. Philippines is like that once but we’re changing for the better. But raising the girls as boys is really new to me. It’s a very sad fact indeed, not being able to live as yourself and pretending to be someone else. T_T

    • DoingDewey

      The author mentioned that as well, particularly touching on countries with similar religious history to that in Afghanistan. It really is a sad thing!

  2. tanya (52 books or bust)

    This book sounds great. I’m glad that it’s written in such a captivating way. And I totally get where you’re coming from about wishing it were fiction. We are very lucky to live in societies that are not that oppressive towards women.

    • DoingDewey

      It’s true! Reading this and The War on Women in Israel made me feel much more determined to protect the freedoms we’re fortunate to have.

    • DoingDewey

      I’d never heard of this phenomenon before either. It sounds as though it’s something people in Afghanistan don’t talk about very much and even many of the aid workers the author talked to were unaware this happened or didn’t want to talk about it.

    • DoingDewey

      I haven’t, but I’m looking it up now! I love reading fiction that relates to the nonfiction I read and I think this topic in particular is worth reading about.

  3. Leila @ LeilaReads

    I had enough trouble with A Thousand Splendid Suns by Kahlil Gibran, so I doubt I’ll read this one. At least that one was fiction. I agree with you that with nonfiction like that it’s hard to read when you know it actually happened.

    • DoingDewey

      It’s amazing what a difference that makes! I also find true crime much scarier and more horrifying than crime in fiction, most of the time.

  4. Amanda

    I love that you just happened to just read this book! A friend just posted an article about this today, so I had just happened to hear about it today then I saw your review. I’m glad the news about this is getting out thanks to the author’s work.

    • DoingDewey

      I actually just watched a The Daily Show episode featuring the author and was excited that I’d just read the book. I agree, it’s wonderful that this story is being shared.

    • DoingDewey

      I actually have The Pearl That Broke Its Shell on my bookshelf but didn’t realize that this was what it’s about! That moves it up on my TBR pile 🙂

  5. Allison @ The Book Wheel

    Okay. So, I bookmarked this review for after I finished the book and now that I have I can say that it was an incredible book. I wish it was fiction, too, because some of it is so heartbreaking but at the same time it’s interesting to read about other cultures. I’m still stewing over how to review it but it will be a good one 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      Thanks for stopping back! I always try to wait to read reviews of books I’m going to read soon too. I see that your review is up now so I’m going to hop over and see what you ended up writing about it 🙂

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