Publisher: William MorrowPublished: May 6, 2014Pages: 464Received: for review tour via TLC Book ToursAfghan-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?
The alternating stories of Rahima and great-great grandmother Shekiba were a welcome narrative. I adored how the chapters alternated between Rahima's life as it changed and Shekiba's past. It was interesting to note how much hadn't changed with time like you would think it should - women still deferred the men, political and social norms did not change during the span of each woman's stories.
It was quite an eye opener to see the life of women in Afghanistan and how their culture works. Rahima grew up in an all female household and was turned into a bacha posh (a female child who dresses and acts like a boy when there is no boy born into the family), up until she turns thirteen and is then married off along with two of her older sisters. Her life seems to crumble in an instant. Shekiba grew up doing chores then men would do on a farm when her mother and siblings died from cholera and left her alone with her father. As she was disfigured and no one bothered with her, she kept up her life as a daughter-son until one day her life is ripped from her and everything changes in the blink of an eye.
Rahima and Shekiba both learn the hard way that women are treated differently then men after having had glimpses of what a man's life was truly like. I couldn't help but be slightly emotional while reading this book and thinking about how unfair the lives of many women are in the Middle East.
They speak of their naseeb (destiny) often, but one of Rahima's aunt says "Naseeb is what people blame for everything they can't fix!" So it makes you realize that the women are not able to change their future and that everything is predetermined for them. How frustrating to not be able to make choices for your own life.
I will definitely be looking forward to reading more by this author and would recommend this book to anyone who has read Khaled Hosseini's books (A Thousand Splendid Suns or The Kite Runner). The way in which The Pearl That Broke It's Shell is written is truly a work of beautiful prose. I really need to go back and look for the pages I marked for quotes.
Read more about Nadia on her website.
Here's the rest of the tour schedule.