Reviewed: “The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan” by Jenny Nordberg

Underground Girls of KabulWe in America and the western world have a tendency to think we know everything. We watch the news and read a few articles and consider ourselves experts in the way things work in the parts of the world most different from ours – the Muslim world, since 2001. This is very short-sighted of us.

Jenny Nordberg’s “The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan” is eye-opening in the extreme and should be read by anyone who has the slightest inclination to truly understand what is like to be a girl and a woman in one of the most unsettled countries in the world, a country we as westerners have striven to free from what we call archaic and abusive religious law.

In our tendency to pick a cause and trumpet it from the comfort of our homes, we have a habit of missing the forest for the trees. Nordberg never really says what led her to investigate the “bacha posh” of Afghanistan, but she finds the forest and the trees. Her book begins with an attempt to find out how widespread the “bacha posh” – girl children dressed as boys by the parents in attempts to have help in the family business, give a family of only daughters more respect for having a son, or bring on some ancient magic to bless the family with a true son – are in Afghanistan. It morphs very quickly into a study of how women are treated in a country that only recently got rid of a law forbidding women from leaving their houses without a male escort and a full burka.

The similarities Nordberg is able to draw between the Afghan culture and our western culture are startling, and it’s easy to see how true they are. There is a stigma against women dressing as men in the western world, mostly in terms of homosexuality since pants and short hair are accepted now, that’s almost behind Afghanistan where a woman dressing as a man is a woman having freedom and purpose, often with the full support of her family and sometimes with the support of religious leaders.

While Nordberg focuses on the bacha posh and a handful of women she met who are connected by the idea of it, she is able to explain tenants of Muslim history and Islamic law that I’ve never had explained to me in any other place. I know more differences between the Sunni and the Shia now than I ever did before. As a whole, the book is incredibly informative and it allowed me to think differently about my world and that world.

The only thing I wish is that the book was longer and had more information for me.

(I received a copy of “The Underground Girls of Kabul” through NetGalley in exchange for an honest, original review. This review will be cross-posted on NetGalley, my blog, and my Goodreads account.)

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