Initially, readers are drawn into the story of Rahima. In 2007 Kabul, she’s one of five sisters living with their mother and opium-addicted father. Prior to his addiction, Rahima’s father worked, but only sporadically gave enough money to support the household. Having a son would provide the family with money, since Rahima would be allowed to work. It would also allow her sisters safe passage to school, since she would be able to walk with them and serve as their protector. It seems like a win-win situation for all and, as the most rambunctious of the sisters, Rahima readily agrees.
Generations ago, Rahima’s great-aunt Shekiba also became bacha posh and while Rahima’s story is interesting, I found Shekiba’s most fascinating. A beautiful child, Shekiba was scarred and left disfigured at an early age. Already undervalued by her extended family, she’s shunned even more for her appearance. She’s kept close to the family home where her parents and brothers adore her. As her family succumbs to illness, a teenage Shekiba finds herself living alone, but determined to keep it a secret from her father’s family. Married off against her will, she soon finds herself living in the royal palace as bacha posh.
With Rahima’s life juxtaposed against Shekiba’s, it’s difficult to say who leads a more difficult life, but as Rahima’s Aunt Khala tells her Shekiba’s life story, you can see Rahima gathering strength from it. Though the circumstances and outcomes of becoming bacha posh differ for them, both endure and are triumphant in the end.
This is absolutely an amazing effort from Nadia Hashimi. She puts such thought into her characters and their emotions; it’s easy to tell that she was heavily invested in telling the story of these women and doing it properly. In addition to Rahima and Shekiba’s stories, she takes care to explore what happens with Rahima’s sisters, her mother and fellow wives, as well as Shekiba’s fellow eunuchs, offering a peek into the lives of other Afghani women. There were no lulls in any of the story lines and, at the end, I sad to say goodbye to Rahima and Shekiba, but grateful for what I learned from them.
Published: May 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.
I have two copies of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell to give away. If you'd like a copy, leave an answer in the comments to the following question: Would you live as bacha posh if your family asked you to? Two winners will be chosen and announced on Sunday, September 21, 2014.