Location : Kabul, Afghanistan
Time: Early 20th century and Early 21st Century (2007)
The novel is the story of two women divided by time, a century to be exact.
Shebika is Rahima’s great great grand mother, and they share a similar naseeb, a destiny, of not conforming to society.
With a drug addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters cannot make ends meet. Their mother takes action into her own hands and turns Rahima into a bacha posh, a boy-girl. Rahim could now go out and chaperone his sisters without having other boys harass them. He was loving his freedom to go back to school and most importantly to play in the street. This only lasts till the girls find out that they are to be married off, even bacha posh Rahima, aged 13.
In parallel to her story is the story of her ancestor, Bibi Shekiba, narrated as a story to them by their Aunt Shaima. Shekiba who went from being a disfigured orphan/ slave, to being the woman/man guard of the King’s harem. One thing clearly hasnt changed over the century that has passed, from the time of the monarchy to those of the time of the Taliban, women are still fighting for their place.
How will life be for these young girls, who are barely into their teenage years? How will they be treated? Will Rahim the bacha posh make out to be a good woman/wife/mother? How do strong willed women face the obstacles they come up against?
I loved it!!!!
The story took me on a journey of self questioning whilst making me cry and root for the women in the story.
I find it impeccably written and is an amazing juxtaposition of the plight of women during two time periods. The story is amazingly descriptive, pulling us into Afghanistan itself. We are in a moment surrounded by its dusty roads, mischievous boys, corrupt grey bearded warlords, equally tyrannical mothers -in-law as well as powerful historical figures like the King Amanullah and his Queen Soraya.
The story Hashimi plots out shows us not only is there the oppression from males but also from other females, and for a young girl to charter her way through theses tepid waters is a life changing task, and it is clearly the case of survival of the fittest and the stronger willed.
Hashimi makes great use of ‘the Other’, an individual who is neither a man nor a woman, the position women find themselves in, that plateau that makes them outcasts in a male preferred world, on their journey to create a voice for themselves. If women in general didnt have a chance of a voice, we are shown that the disfigured and the disabled are literally invisible individuals in society set up for humour and brought up as scapegoats.
She has cleverly shown us a picture of misogynistic men afraid of women becoming literate and therefore liberated, and women subjected to the whims of these men, sent left and right against their will. Regardless, the novel brings to life, women whose formidable spirit will inspire you yet their life’s trials will emotionally unwind you at the same time.
I would recommend this book to anyone, and do not say you are not one bit for the empowerment of and enlightening of all humans, male and female the world over, once you are done reading it. It is not a case of religious oppression but more a case of cultural necessity to live up to (Sorry if that was a bit strong, I am so mad and sad and everything in between. These people do exist after all)
In keeping with March being Women’s month, I’m glad I read it now, as I have to say The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is a masterpice in highlighting that the battle for women is far from over.
I leave you with a few powerful words to ponder over.
Thanks for reading, hope you hunt down this gem of a book soon! 🙂
On who females belong to:
Don’t listen to the garbage that some people say about girls belonging to other people. Bah! Girls belong to their families and always do. You have a mother and sisters and nothing changes that—I don’t care who you’ve married.”
– KHALA SHAIMA
On educating women and girls:
“Do you think, however, that our nation from the outset needs only men to serve it? Women should also take their part as women did in the early years of our nation (…). From their examples we must learn that we must all contribute toward the development of our nation and that this cannot be done without being equipped with knowledge. So we should all attempt to acquire as much knowledge as possible, in order that we may render our services to society (…)”
I came across this book from a TBR off Nazahet @ Read Diverse Books, and it made me accelerate my quite glacial speed towards reading this book and I’m glad! Please do check out his blog for more such book recommendations, his picks are awesome!