Afghan-American Nadia Hashimi’s literary debut novel, The Pearl that Broke Its Shell is a searing tale of powerlessness, fate, and the freedom to control one’s own fate that combines the cultural flavor and emotional resonance of the works of Khaled Hosseini, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Lisa See.
In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters.
But Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom. A century earlier, her great-aunt, Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life the same way.
Crisscrossing in time, The Pearl the Broke Its Shell interweaves the tales of these two women separated by a century who share similar destinies. But what will happen once Rahima is of marriageable age? Will Shekiba always live as a man? And if Rahima cannot adapt to life as a bride, how will she survive?
Every now and then you read a book that touches you very profoundly. Rahima’s story was about daily struggle for survival and acceptance in a world where women are of little value. The book recounts the stories of two women, Rahima, and her ancestor Shekiba who was born about a hundred years earlier. Rahima’s fascination with Shekiba’s story as a daughter-son helps her to cope with the difficulties she faces as an expendable daughter and then the 4th wife of an Afghani warlord.
The prose was beautifully written and following the two stories simultaneously was not difficult. We are pulled into Rahima’s struggle and hold our breath as she forges ahead with determination to build a better life for herself. I would highly recommend this book to all who are interested in the lives of women in other countries who are struggling for the same hopes and desires that we do. I look forward to reading more of Nadia’s work.
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