Published by Crown Publishing Group on January 1, 2014
Genres/Lists: Gender-Based Books, Non-Fiction, Political
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In a country where a family’s worth is dependent on their having a son, some Afghans have found a creative way to circumvent the system. It’s more common than you’d expect, rarely discussed in polite company, and has been going on for generations. What do they do, you ask? Why, they raise their daughters as sons. In a stunning story of a trend discovered completely by accident, Nordberg takes us on a journey through Afghanistan and into the lives of families, and women, who are bucking tradition.
Let me explain. In Afghanistan, a family is shamed if they do not produce a son, for they have no one to carry on the family name. In addition, local culture dictates that if a woman can’t have a son it is because she didn’t wish for him strongly enough, and so the burden falls on the mother. In a silent act of rebellion, or a desperate attempt to salvage their reputation, some families choose to raise their daughters as bacha posh (or, as sons). For some, it is to allow their daughters the freedoms they wouldn’t experience otherwise, but for others it’s a sort of offering, for it is said that raising your daughter as a son will bless you with the birth of one, later. Interestingly, the moment a girl hits puberty, she immediately goes back to being a daughter, and that’s that. It’s not a trend that’s publicly discussed or acknowledged, nor is it widely condemned, and yet it happens more than you’d think.
So what happens when you live your first 12 years of life as a bacha posh with freedoms and must submit to the restrictions of being a woman? It depends, and this is the question Nordberg attempts to answer. For some, becoming a girl again is no big deal and part of the natural process of things. For others, it’s a difficult transition and wrought with small rebellions, but for some it’s impossible, and they continue living as men, despite the social costs of doing so.
The Underground Girls of Kabul is an incredible story about what it takes to survive in an oppressive culture and the creative ways families find to survive within it. The fact that Nordberg stumbled across this trend completely by accident only adds to the book, for the reader feels like he/she is learning each new piece of information alongside the author. Her curiosity and ability to coax families to open up is stunning, making this a book that everyone should read.
Recommended for: People interested in how the world works in other places.