“I wondered if it would have made a difference. I wondered if one small difference in the sequence of events would have altered the paths we ended up on.”
The Pearl that Broke Its Shell is an amazing, fictional tale by Nadia Hashimi which balances oppression and abuse with the strength and resilience exhibited by women and girls living in Afghanistan. The narrative alternates between the story of Rahima, who becomes a bacha posh (a girl who dresses like and is treated as a boy) with the history of her great-great grandmother, Shekiba, who had also lived as a male a century earlier. As Rahima experiences hardship and despair, she slowly learns and gains strength from the story of Shekiba.
Rahima is the third of five daughters in a country where boys are preferred. To help her family, she is transitioned to appear like a boy and enjoys the freedom of acting like a boy, going to school and doing the marketing for the family. She was lucky to have a spinster aunt who encouraged the family to send their girls to school despite their father’s inattention and drug-induced abuse. The aunt supports the girls and becomes their voice when their mother is unable to. Life changes dramatically after their father marries his three daughters into the family of a local warlord.
As Rahima struggles to live with her husbands first 3 wives and his hateful mother, the spinster Aunt provides a lifeline by telling Rahima the tale of Shekiba during her visits to the compound. Shekiba had struggled with the abuse of her own extended family after her family succumbed to cholera in the early 1900s. She was abused, threatened and lost loved ones but also experienced the love of a child and learned to plan and protect herself.
It is important for these stories to be told. The author mentioned that she had read Half the Sky – I too read this book and it exposed the horrible truth that girls experience around the world. Each chapter exposed different countries and the atrocities done to young girls and women. It was difficult to read the vividly described experiences reported in Half the Sky but Nadia Hashimi tells The Pearl That Broke Its Shell in a way that makes readers empathize with the fictional characters and continue to think of them after the pages are read. It certainly made me appreciate how lucky that I have been to grow up and raise my own daughter in Canada! I will be passing this book to friend as I am looking forward to discussing it!
“That was her escape, I realized. Where her body couldn’t take her, her mind went.”