“A tender and beautiful family story. Her always engaging multigenerational tale is a portrait of Afghanistan in all of its perplexing, enigmatic glory, and a mirror into the still ongoing struggles of Afghan women.”
— Khaled Hosseini, New York Times bestselling author of The Kite Runner
“There’s nothing better than a novel that sweeps you away to a richly drawn new world, offering that rare miss-your-subway-stop immersion…Nadia Hashimi’s wonderful debut novel…provided just that kind of engrossing reading experience.”
— Washington Post
Behind the Story
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is a story I simply had to tell. I am an Afghan-American woman and in my lifetime, the reaction to my identity has changed drastically. Growing up, it was not uncommon for people to scratch their heads and ask me if Afghanistan was part of Africa. In the aftermath of 9/11 and the US involvement in Afghanistan, the world has learned a lot about this country where women have been oppressed and terrorized by hard line fundamentalists. But, as is often the case, there’s more to the story.
My parents were born and raised in Afghanistan in the 1950s and 60s, a time when things were much different for the country. My aunts graduated from college and my mother even traveled to Europe on scholarship to obtain her graduate degree in engineering. On our walls and dressers were faded pictures of aunts, uncles and grandparents – the women dressed in trendy skirts or bellbottoms and the men in wide-collared suits. Kebab shops played popular music and poetry was a part of everyone’s life.
It was hard for me to reconcile these images and impressions with what I saw on television or what I read in the newspapers. Women lost so much in the violent years that followed my parents’ emigration. For so many Afghans, there’s been a burning desire to express that what is seen today is not the whole story. Many of us want to shout from rooftops that our culture has been robbed and our women have been brutally stripped of their rights. Our girls, our young women, our future mothers have to fight, all over again, to be valued as part of society.
Afghanistan is home to a practice that demonstrates how sons are valued over daughters. Some families without sons will disguise a young daughter as a boy (known as “bacha posh”) for a multitude of reasons including elevating the family status and enabling the child to escort sisters outside the home. As I was preparing to write my story, I came across an article that talked about the bacha posh tradition and made mention of a time in Afghanistan’s past when a king used women dressed as men to guard his harem (trust no man!). Although done for entirely different reasons, I was fascinated by the concept of girls, generations apart, being dressed as boys in the context of a country where gender is of ultimate consequence. This was the story I wanted to tell.
Decades of war and fundamentalist regimes have battered and scarred the women of Afghanistan. And the country is fraught with problems – child marriages, warlords, political unrest, drug addiction, corruption and more. I’ve woven these crises into this novel since they are part of the Afghan reality. I read anything I could find about women of Shekiba and Rahima’s generations. I spoke with friends and family members, women working with the Afghan Parliament. I learned of frustrations, heartbreaks and triumphs.
Rahima is a former bachaposh who is married off to a local warlord when she is barely an adolescent. She is the living legacy of her great-great-grandmother, Shekiba, and through the hardships she endures, she draws strength from this relationship. They share a common tenacity, a desire to survive despite everything. This tenacity is what I see changing the face of Afghanistan today and giving hope for tomorrow.
Ultimately, I wrote this story to share the experience of Afghan women in a fictional work that is made up of a thousand truths.
Rahima lives in Afghanistan shortly after the fall of the Taliban regime. The Afghan people are recovering from its oppressive shadow. The government is struggling to gain control over its fragmented territories and warlords hold more control than the new leaders in the far-off capital. Corruption is rampant. The light of change is just starting to spread and for young girls, the opportunity for education still come with risk and hardship, even for families who are supportive.
To learn more about girls like Rahima:
Shekiba, Rahima’s ancestor, lives in Afghanistan in the early 20th century. The country is ruled by a monarchy, though regime changes happen often and violently. Peacetime was tenuous as the tensions of the Great Game still reverberated through the land. Kings were looking to the west and making efforts to modernize and empower Afghanistan. Infrastructure, foreign relations and education gained importance. Especially in the cities, life was changing for women as they gained more social mobility and opportunities for education, a shift in paradigm made possible by Afghanistan standing on its own two feet among western nations.
Follow the links to learn more about the historic characters we meet in Shekiba’s Afghanistan:
Buy the Book
There are few words that would do this story justice, deeply personal accounts told in an all-encompassing way, giving a flavor for the women of Afghanistan that will open new doors for readers of all ages and stages of life.”
— Gaele (Atlanta, GA), Amazon
Rahima and Shekiba will inspire and unwind you emotionally. Two protagonists embracing my heart, tethering an invisible line of female solidarity across the terrain separating us… Affecting and inspiring depicting the formidable spirit and bravery of Afghan women.”
— Mal (US), Goodreads
The twists and turns of the plot kept me wondering, cheering and sometimes shedding a tear right down to the final page.”
— Andrea (East Lansing, MI), Goodreads
…very, very well written. Impeccable. This is a writer who can suck you right in. When you set the book down, you have to blink a few times, remember where you are…”
— Tara (Roy, UT), Goodreads
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