The Pearl That Broke It’s Shell by Nadia Hashimi
Genre: Historical Fiction
In present day Afghanistan, we meet Rahima…an 11 year old girl who desperately wants to go to school. But because of the rules of her opium addicted father and the cultural stigma associated with young girls in Afghanistan….Rahima and her sisters are rarely allowed to leave the home. Her only hope for a normal childhood lies in the ancient custom of “Bacha Posh”…one in which a young girl dresses and is treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. Rahima then becomes Rahim…and as Rahim, she is able to go to school, run errands for her mother and chaperone her older sisters while they are out. Her newly found freedom does not last long as her father’s addiction and his need for money becomes worse. Rahima, at the age of 13….is married off to a powerful war-lord, a man more than twice her age. The life that follows Rahima into adulthood is one of tragedy, abuse and sorrow.
“I was a little girl and then I wasn’t. I was a bacha posh and then I wasn’t. I was a daughter and then I wasn’t. I was a mother and then I wasn’t.”
Alternately to Rahima, we also learn the story of Shekiba, Rahima’s great-great grandmother. Shekiba is a disfigured orphaned girl living in a tiny village outside of Kabul at the turn of the twentieth century. Shekiba’s story is told in the third person account to Rahima by her aunt as a means of passing on family history. Shekiba came from a loving family….but at a young age, Shekiba’s brothers died of a harsh Cholera epidemic. Her mother goes mad with grief and all that is left is Shekiba and her father to tend to the family farm and rely on each other for survival. Soon after her father dies, Shekiba is passed along from her extended family, on to the palace as a guard for the King’s harem, and then is eventually married off to a man she doesn’t even know.
The Pearl That Broke It’s Shell is a tragic tale rich with history, politics, customs and emotions. I was almost immediately hooked into the story of these wonderful and brave characters and found myself thinking about them constantly throughout my day. Fans of Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns will likely enjoy this tale about the power of hope and the strength of women when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles and overwhelming grief. All of the characters in this novel were written with beautiful depth and dimension. I absolutely loved the alternating chapters between Rahima and Shekiba…it was interesting to hear how so many customs and laws regarding women in Afghanistan hadn’t changed in over a century. So many times during this book, I found myself feeling both angry and sad for these women and they ways in which they are treated…but I also found myself feeling hopeful and happy in their inner strength and determination.
“The human spirit, you know what they say about the human spirit? Is is harder than a rock and more delicate than a flower petal.”
I listed to the audiobook version of this story and I felt like maybe there was a tad too much dialog for this to be a great listening choice….this may be one I would have preferred to read instead. While this is a well written story with plenty of parts that are quite poetic…. it’s still not quite up to par with the beauty that is the writing of Khaled Hosseini. But then again…I’m not sure many authors can be compared to Hosseini, so that may be an unfair comparison 😉 Overall, this is definitely a book I recommend to people who enjoy International themed books and works of Historical Fiction.
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
The Pearl That Broke It’s Shell – Amazon.