Reviewed by Ambrea
In Kabul, Rahima and her sisters are unable to attend school. The Taliban is a terrifying force in their community and, with a drug-addicted father and few male relatives to speak of, Rahima and her sisters rarely venture out of their home. In a desperate attempt to improve their circumstances, Rahima becomes a bacha posh, which allows her to be treated and dress as a boy until she reaches a marriageable age. As a boy, she’s allowed unprecedented freedom—freedom that will change her life.
However, Rahima isn’t the first in her family to adopt the customer of bacha posh. Her great-great grandmother Shekiba, who was orphaned by an epidemic and abandoned by her father’s family, became a bacha posh to survive unspeakable cruelty and build a new life in the king’s palace. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell combines the stories of these two women, showing the parallels between their lives and their dreams.
I devoured The Pearl That Broke Its Shell. It’s a heart-wrenching novel, but it’s so beautifully written and it’s such a gripping story that I couldn’t help getting sucked into it. I loved reading about Rahima and Shekiba, women who became bacha posh—effectively becoming “sons”—in order to gain safety and security in a society that’s increasingly hostile toward women, especially independent women.
I fell in love with the way Nadia Hashimi weaves together the stories of Rahima and Shekiba. Rahima recounts her story in the present, a first-person point of view that catalogs current events as they happen, and she’s incredibly candid. More importantly, Hashimi manages to show Rahima’s growth as she matures into a young woman—a young woman desperate to make decisions for herself.
Shekiba, on the other hand, has her story shared: Rahima receives the story of her great-great grandmother in pieces, one little bit at a time as her aunt shares it with her. I like that events in Shekiba’s story mirror those in Rahima’s life as if these two ladies share a parallel destiny, a future that seems just a little more optimistic.
However, I should point out that Rahima and Shekiba do not lead easy lives. Shekiba endures tremendous loss, first her siblings and mother, and then her father, and she suffers abuse at the hands of her extended relatives. Likewise, Rahima deals with her father’s opium addiction and, later, endures violent physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband.
Neither woman is given the opportunity to express independence, to decide who they wish to be. The men in their lives control their every action, keeping them contained, keeping them blindfolded. The restrictions placed on their actions—on their imagination, on their basic freedoms—and the abuse they endure is absolutely appalling, which gives Hashimi’s novel an emotional impact that packs a wallop.