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An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl. In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as "dressed up like a boy") is a third An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl. In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as "dressed up like a boy") is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom. The Underground Girls of Kabul is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents' attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults. At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America's longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.


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An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl. In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as "dressed up like a boy") is a third An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl. In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as "dressed up like a boy") is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom. The Underground Girls of Kabul is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents' attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults. At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America's longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.

30 review for The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra-X Off having adventures

    Karl Marx said, "[To] abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real happiness; the demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs that needs illusions." I'm not a communist but I 100% agree with that. But why on earth would men in Afghanistan give up the illusion that women are a lower form of human life when they benefit so much? Still less why would they give up religion when they say their repressio Karl Marx said, "[To] abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real happiness; the demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs that needs illusions." I'm not a communist but I 100% agree with that. But why on earth would men in Afghanistan give up the illusion that women are a lower form of human life when they benefit so much? Still less why would they give up religion when they say their repression of women is based on that? Better to accept the very minor illusion of a few women being men and keep all their rights and privileges. This is a tremendously powerful boook and despite its title covers a lot of Europe too, mainly Muslim countries but not entirely. Its main message is Women are Unacceptable. Women are the Lowest of the Low. Women are such trash you can do anything to them you (male) want to. All women are good for is Cleaning, Breeding (boy babies, girls are a disappointment) and Sex. And the only way out of such an appalling life is to Become a Man. To start with, a Boy, a bacha posh, even an imitation one by dressing in boy's clothes, cutting the hair short, no doubt adopting an appalling attitude towards women and never, ever peeing at a communal urinal. When you get to puberty, providing you can resist the blandishments of your peers about beautiful long hair and kohl around the eyes, jewellery and perfume, and, despite all evidence to the contrary do not believe as they do, that you will make a love match with a handsome man and live happily ever after caring for your babies, you can continue life as a man. And, despite all evidence to the contrary the real men will accept you as one. Evidence to the contrary? How, in a village or a neighbourhood, could not everyone know exactly what gender everyone else really is? Probably because people are kinder than political and religious systems and know that a woman who has no husband or father to provide for her or male of any age to accompany her outside her house, to shop for her, would be in very desperate straits. This acceptance of a male who cannot marry or have children (a crucial aspect of manhood in this society) is the kindest way of treating your neighbour as you would want to be treated, might have to be treated. But what about when these bacha posh go to the cities where they are unknown, are they shown such tolerance or, if unmasked (if that is the right word", what then? In this way, this acceptance of changing gender, Afghan and the other mostly Muslim societies who restrict women's lives so they literally cannot live without a man, are very modern. It is perhaps the only way in which they are. Read May 2017, finally reviewed Dec 2019 because of reading Kevin Shepherd's excellent review

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dem

    An amazing book club discussion book that had our group deep in discussion for 2 hours in which all the members contributed to one of the most passionate discussions our group has ever held. I kept thinking as we all sat around the table discussing Afghan culture and Western culture. What if 12 Afghanistan ladies sat around a table discussing western culture what their thoughts would be on our lives and traditions. I had actually rated this book 3 stars until we had our discussion and upped the ra An amazing book club discussion book that had our group deep in discussion for 2 hours in which all the members contributed to one of the most passionate discussions our group has ever held. I kept thinking as we all sat around the table discussing Afghan culture and Western culture. What if 12 Afghanistan ladies sat around a table discussing western culture what their thoughts would be on our lives and traditions. I had actually rated this book 3 stars until we had our discussion and upped the rating to 4 because I didn't realize until the group discussion just how much this book affected me. This was a book that make me angry, sad and taught me a great deal about a coulture I knew very little about and to be grateful for the menfolk around me who respect me as a wife, a mother, a sister, a boss and a friend I now realize ...... What I take for granted everyday may just well be someone else's everyday struggle. An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl. Nordberg interviews several women and it is through their stories we learn what it means to live as a Bacha Posh (girls who are are born female but are brought up as boys in family's where there are no male children) in a country where men rule and women do as they are told. The book is quite detailed and quite a lot of research has taken place by this Journalist, while it is quite a factual read it is extremely interesting. There were times when I did feel the stories overlapped a bit and became repetitive and some of the scientific research I would question and hence my original 3.5 stars but this is a book that does make you think, gets a discussion going and temperatures rising and for that alone this book is is well worth 4 Stars. I listened to this one on audible and the narrator Kristen Potter was excellent . The ownership of an Afghan girl is literally passed on from one male - her father to the one who becomes her husband. He will take over the ruling of her life down to the smallest details if he is so inclined. (Quote from book)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Shepherd

    "Bacha posh: a hidden Afghan custom of resistance. Meaning 'dressed up like a boy' in Dari, bacha posh are girls raised and presented to the world as boys." Having at least one son is mandatory for a respectable Afghan wife. Failing to produce a male child is shameful. A woman who has only daughters or, even worse, no children at all, is a disgrace to her entire family. It matters not that it is, in fact, the father's contribution that actually determines the sex of the child. In a country where "Bacha posh: a hidden Afghan custom of resistance. Meaning 'dressed up like a boy' in Dari, bacha posh are girls raised and presented to the world as boys." Having at least one son is mandatory for a respectable Afghan wife. Failing to produce a male child is shameful. A woman who has only daughters or, even worse, no children at all, is a disgrace to her entire family. It matters not that it is, in fact, the father's contribution that actually determines the sex of the child. In a country where the literacy rate hovers around 10%, myths and lies are passed down unchallenged, generation after generation after generation. A good wife can determine the sex of her child simply by making up her mind about it. In a world where women are often confined to the home, unable to step outdoors unless accompanied by a male family member, baby girls are no cause for celebration. "The baby blinks a little, and her tiny mouth gasps a few times. She is perfect, down to her tiny, grasping fingers. Yet to many in Afghanistan, she is 'naqis-ul-aql,' or "stupid by birth," as a woman equals a creature lacking wisdom due to her weak brain. If she survives, she may often go hungry, because feeding a girl is secondary to feeding a son in the family, who will be given the best most plentiful food. If, in her family, there is a chance of the children going to school, her brothers will have priority. Her husband will be chosen for her, often before she reaches puberty. As an adult, very few of life's decisions will be her own." (pg. 43) There is a tendency here in the West to lay the blame on Islam for the woes of Afghan women, but that is an ethnocentric point of view. Islam itself is no more anti-progressive than Judaism or Christianity. All organized religions are susceptible to tyranny when they are hijacked by social and political institutions as a means to control others. It should come as no surprise that, in a society where women are second-tier citizens, some little girls are raised and presented as little boys. Whether it's an act of resistance, a means to preserve and protect the honor of a family, or a work-around for a daughter's freedom of movement and education, it is an acceptable but secret solution to an unacceptable but inevitable situation. 'Bacha posh' is a way to function in a dysfunctional society. Batshit crazy? Yes. But is it any more crazy than gay U.S. Marines who are forced to present as heterosexual in order to serve their country? What about South Africans who bleached their skin in order to present as 'white' under Apartheid? Or, and I'm paraphrasing Jenny Nordberg here, what about Jews who presented as Protestants in order to survive the holocaust? Deceptional presentation is a coping mechanism in any society where one group, one ethnicity, one gender is unjustly favored over another. Jenny Nordberg is one hell of an investigative journalist. She quite literally risked her life to ferret out the truth about the practice of bacha posh and its consequences. This was 351 pages of enlightenment, empathy and cross-cultural understanding that I will carry with me for a long, long time.

  4. 4 out of 5

    J.L. Sutton

    “A great many people in this world would be willing to throw out their gender in a second if it could be traded for freedom.” Jenny Nordberg's The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan is an interesting exploration of what might seem like an unexpected form of resistance. Nordberg's book chronicles her investigation into bacha posh (girls being raised as boys), why it is practiced and how it is viewed. Nordberg's account bogs down in a few places, but overal “A great many people in this world would be willing to throw out their gender in a second if it could be traded for freedom.” Jenny Nordberg's The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan is an interesting exploration of what might seem like an unexpected form of resistance. Nordberg's book chronicles her investigation into bacha posh (girls being raised as boys), why it is practiced and how it is viewed. Nordberg's account bogs down in a few places, but overall it is thought provoking and compelling. 3.5 stars “Being born with power, as a boy, doesn’t necessarily spur innovation. But being born entirely without it forces innovation in women, who must learn to survive almost from the moment they are born."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mystica

    The story is basically that of survival of a girl in Afghanistan - seemingly one of the worst places to be born a woman. Afghanistan is a country where the birth of a son is heralded as one of good luck and where the birth of a daughter is one of misfortune. The daughter would not be a problem if there are sons but if it is only a family of girls it is not just the child that is unlucky, the mother is considered unfortunate and a disgrace and even the husband is pitied. In this story, even very The story is basically that of survival of a girl in Afghanistan - seemingly one of the worst places to be born a woman. Afghanistan is a country where the birth of a son is heralded as one of good luck and where the birth of a daughter is one of misfortune. The daughter would not be a problem if there are sons but if it is only a family of girls it is not just the child that is unlucky, the mother is considered unfortunate and a disgrace and even the husband is pitied. In this story, even very educated women accept blindly the fact that sons are the protectors of the family, the guardians of the family honor and the person who will look after them in their old age. So the son is important. In this backdrop we have the strange phenomenon of a girl of the family being designated as a boy to all intents and purposes - from dress, mannerisms and behaviour till puberty when she has to revert to being a girl. From Azita to Mehran to Shukria to Zahra this journalist unravels the story which is not acknowledged or spoken about of how families adapt their girls to either provide the escort the sisters need or in many instances to provide the "magic" element that them being a boy brings on the family because subsequent pregnancies bring only boys. The story of bacha posh shows how this third gender live unacknowledged in society and whose families simply accept that it is best for the family, uncaring of the psychological or physical effects on the child concerned. It is the family unit that is most important, the honor and position of the unit, not the individual which is of prime importance. We follow Azita's path - a female parliamentarian who has to trod a very narrow path between her constituents, her illiterate husband and her four daughters. She is trying her best to provide something to her supporters, provide education and some kind of normalcy for her daughters and also pacify her husband and in laws with money and material comforts so that they would literally get off her back. This is a very emotional read and one that makes me extremely glad I was born Sri Lankan. Sons are liked in my part of the world but the female infanticide prevalent in parts of India are non existent, and the attitudes of Afghanistan do not exist at all. The book shows the spirit of the Afghan woman in the context of the war in Afghanistan - both Russian and American interventions doing almost nothing for women. How this situation could be prevalent today in the 21st century is a sad indication of the fact that somethings just do not change. That men themselves would want to keep their women in servitude and submission and be so cruel and unforgiving is difficult to both understand and accept but that this is the plight of a lot of women who have no recourse to either justice or even familial support. The latter was one I found very difficult to understand because once the daughter was married she was almost thought of as an outsider and someone else's responsibility. Despite Azita's mothers entreaties and opposition, there was nothing she could do in her daughter's case, as it became a case of either accepting her husband's orders or facing divorce herself. A subject handled with sensitivity and discretion - understanding on her side of the inherent characteristics of the situation and the position of women and definitely not being judgemental on each individual case.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

    “We are who we must be.” In The Underground Girls of Kabul, Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg reveals a hidden practice in Afghanistan of presenting young girls as boys for part, or all, of their childhood. In an oppressive patriarchal society that demands sons at almost any cost, these girls are known as bacha posh. "[I] have met girls who have been boys because the family needed another income through a child who worked; because the road to school was dangerous and a boy’s disguise provided som “We are who we must be.” In The Underground Girls of Kabul, Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg reveals a hidden practice in Afghanistan of presenting young girls as boys for part, or all, of their childhood. In an oppressive patriarchal society that demands sons at almost any cost, these girls are known as bacha posh. "[I] have met girls who have been boys because the family needed another income through a child who worked; because the road to school was dangerous and a boy’s disguise provided some safety or because the family lacked sons and needed to present as a complete family to the village. Often...it is a combination of factors. A poor family may need a [bacha posh] for different reasons than a rich family, but no ethnic or geographical reasons set them apart." Nordberg attempts to explain the complex role of a bacha posh by sharing the moving personal stories of a number of Afghan women, including Azita, a female parliamentarian who turns her fourth daughter into a boy; Zahra, who refuses her parents’ attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Shahed, an undercover female police officer, who remains in male disguise as an adult. The author also explores the traditional roots of the practice within the cultural, political and religious framework of Afghan society, and how it contributes to the global dialogue on gender issues. "The way I have come to see it now is that bacha posh is a missing part in the history of women." concludes Nordberg. Written with keen insight and sensitivity, The Underground Girls of Kabul is a fascinating and poignant account of women's lives in Afghanistan.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Wacaser

    A few years ago, I sat in a Swedish classroom with other foreigners all studying Swedish. We came from a variety of backgrounds and were given an assignment to give a presentation in Swedish about a famous person from our home country. One young woman, who often brought her small baby to class (in those fantastic Swedish prams that have never become popular in the United States), began her presentation about her home country, Afghanistan. As she explained to the class, illiteracy was incredibly A few years ago, I sat in a Swedish classroom with other foreigners all studying Swedish. We came from a variety of backgrounds and were given an assignment to give a presentation in Swedish about a famous person from our home country. One young woman, who often brought her small baby to class (in those fantastic Swedish prams that have never become popular in the United States), began her presentation about her home country, Afghanistan. As she explained to the class, illiteracy was incredibly high--over 90% of people in the country cannot read or write. Decades of unrest, war, and government corruption had left her country culturally bankrupt. There weren't famous authors or poets to laud, politicians were too interested in lining their pockets with foreign aid, and people were simply too busy trying to survive that she couldn't name one famous person from her country to talk about. So she shared with us the grim reality of this complicated and war-torn country--Afghanistan. I have thought of her often when I've read the news about Afghanistan or the rare book about the country. I think of her when I consider my life as an extremely privileged woman living a remarkably easy life. She came to my mind again as I read this book, a true book, written by a Swedish journalist, Jenny Nordberg. Having lived in Sweden for many years, I could see evidence of Ms. Nordberg's own cultural background and her own innate biases-as much as she tries to remain neutral and allows the characters to speak for themselves. Her perspective and insights are very much Swedish. In her work as a journalist in Afghanistan, Ms. Nordberg encountered a hidden phenomenon of girls dressed and raised as boys until they hit puberty. In Afghanistan's culture, boys are treasured and valued deeply. To be without a boy brings great dishonor and shame to a family. There is a hidden practice of allowing a daughter to become a boy for a time, while society sort of turns a blind eye to the practice. The girl-turned-boy gives her family more freedom or more income if she can work. It becomes a way for poor girls to support their families. According to superstition, the custom also can have the magical effect of allowing a real son to be born to the family. Ms. Nordberg traveled the country meeting with these girl/boys and explores what it means in their society, why families make this choice, the challenges these children face when changing back to their biological sex, and how this both empowers these women but also can hinder them. This book also highlights the extremely fragile and difficult lives women in Afghanistan lead and what they must do to survive in a society which doesn't value women. Nordberg analyzes the ineffectiveness of western initiatives who while understanding that there is a problem, often fail to address it in ways that actually make a difference for women in the country. If you ever have questions about gender and society, you really should read this book. In highlighting this society, it provides a way to look at one's own culture. Whether you agree or not with Nordberg's conclusions or analysis, it will surely provoke thought and discussion about the way gender is constructed and deconstructed.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    Like many New York Times readers, I read Nordberg’s first article on girls disguised as boys in Afghanistan and was fascinated. It’s a topic that deserved a book, and fortunately Nordberg went deeper and wrote one. This book relates many stories of girls disguised as boys, and women disguised as men. Sometimes changing a girl to a boy is done to raise the family’s social standing, as both fathers and mothers are looked down upon for not producing sons. Sometimes it’s done for practical reasons: A Like many New York Times readers, I read Nordberg’s first article on girls disguised as boys in Afghanistan and was fascinated. It’s a topic that deserved a book, and fortunately Nordberg went deeper and wrote one. This book relates many stories of girls disguised as boys, and women disguised as men. Sometimes changing a girl to a boy is done to raise the family’s social standing, as both fathers and mothers are looked down upon for not producing sons. Sometimes it’s done for practical reasons: Afghan boys can work outside the home, but girls and women are rarely allowed to do so. And many families do it for superstitious reasons, believing that creating a faux boy child will hasten the birth of a real one. The transitions back to femininity are equally diverse: one eight-year-old girl is changed back early because she’s “terminally girly”; another girl, a teenager, refuses to change back and give up her freedoms despite family pressure. Some women who spent time as boys during childhood look back on it as an empowering experience, giving them self-confidence that lasted into adulthood; others, especially those who changed back as older teenagers or adults, are left confused, feeling not quite male or female. One of the biggest surprises for me was how accepted this practice is in Afghan society; I’d imagined families going to great lengths to hide the true gender of their daughters, but despite or perhaps because of the rigidity of gender roles, dressing girls as boys functions as an acceptable release valve. Appearances, in many cases, suffice. One father admits to forgetting that his “son” isn’t a real boy (sadly, this does not make him rethink his clear favoritism for this child; he can form a bond with an honorary son, it seems, but not a daughter). Even the schools get involved: in the case of one young girl, “all the teachers play along and help protect her secret by letting her change clothes in a separate room when necessary. . . . The rules are clear: dresses for girls, pants for boys. . . . But it is not for the school to get involved in a family matter, [a teacher] explains. Whatever gender the parents decide upon, the school should help perpetuate.” Cross-dressing seems less a matter of truly convincing others than of being credible enough to let everyone pretend. Nordberg does an excellent job of presenting this information clearly and letting readers into the life stories of the women she meets; we get to know them as individuals, as the book provides a window into their daily lives. Two authorial decisions bear mentioning, though. First, Nordberg repeatedly mentions that women have disguised themselves as men in many patriarchal societies, and that more broadly, there have always been people who pretended to be something they weren’t to avoid discrimination. This broader context is useful, but Nordberg never develops it in any detail. Second, a substantial chunk of the book focuses on the life of an Afghan parliamentarian, the mother of the first disguised girl Nordberg met, despite the fact that these sections go far afield from the subject of girls disguised as boys. The parliamentarian, Azita, has a fascinating story that illuminates the challenges faced by women in Afghanistan – Nordberg mentions early in the book that 90% of Afghan women suffer some type of domestic abuse in their lifetimes, but it’s the individual stories that bring home how abusive behavior is the foundation of gender relations there for most people. Still, I wish the book had spent as much time on the stories of some of the disguised girls and women as it spends with Azita. Overall, I found this to be a captivating look into another culture, and very readable, though sometimes depressing. Some of the marketing for this book focuses on Nordberg’s “discovering” a cultural practice westerners had previously overlooked, but her treatment of the people she writes about is always respectful. She seems to have immersed herself in the culture far more than a typical western journalist, and earned the trust of the women she met. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone interested in Afghanistan, gender issues or feminism.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Una Tiers

    The oppression of women is worse than I understood. The beliefs described in this book are not easy to understand. But the author suggests the same beliefs prevail in men and women. While the book was important to understand different beliefs and ways to live, the author lost much of the attention with repetition.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Extraordinary journalism tumbles out of Afghanistan at a staggering pace. From Steve Coll's Ghost Wars and Ahmed Rashid's Descent into Chaos to Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Little America and Jake Tapper's The Outpost, the wars and suffocating corruption afflicting this crossroad's troubled people have been exhaustively chronicled. These singular correspondents rarely excavate past the past the front rooms of Afghan society, however, because their stories come and go with would-be pacifiers and libera Extraordinary journalism tumbles out of Afghanistan at a staggering pace. From Steve Coll's Ghost Wars and Ahmed Rashid's Descent into Chaos to Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Little America and Jake Tapper's The Outpost, the wars and suffocating corruption afflicting this crossroad's troubled people have been exhaustively chronicled. These singular correspondents rarely excavate past the past the front rooms of Afghan society, however, because their stories come and go with would-be pacifiers and liberators. Afghans are acted upon and rarely have agency to react in these narratives because only a handful of leaders from a community sit across from American commanders and their allies; Taliban fighters may be a part of a Kandahar or Helmand community, but they are not representatives of that people because of the nature of their power over it and that caustic interaction’s consequences for its permanent inhabitants. Jenny Nordberg has leveraged that strange duality of the foreign woman to pierce the walls past which coalition foot soldiers rarely tread. The stories she finds beyond that cultural shroud should stand as an indictment of the tragic superficiality of a decade’s development projects and priorities for women and girls in Afghanistan. That they were heard and able to be brought to life in the hearts and minds of thousands of girls across ethnic and class lines speaks to the relief brought from years without Taliban control, and that is something worth fighting for. It is only heartbreaking to learn more about this splintered, sequestered world and realize that so much remains buried that might grow to strengthen the country that has so malignly neglected them. The Underground Girls of Kabul serves as an excellent compliment to Shereen El Feki’s regional collection of portraits in Sex and the Citadel. That Nordberg has borne witness to the world of the Bacha Posh as a Swedish journalist is a remarkable accomplishment in and of itself and speaks to her talents as a journalist in searching out the threads of this story. That her stories sweep across so many lives and yet lodge so deeply and compassionately in the lives and secrets of those she encounters brings her book forward as a necessary counterpoint to every work of conflict journalism that has dissected the battlefield of Afghanistan while leaving its society largely unscathed. It is uncertain what can come of such journalism. Will the female parliamentarian find justice and a fair election? Will fathers entertain the wills of their wives and daughters? Will the wives and mothers flicker out of the world in which they grew up and transpose their daughters into a broader field to see in which way they may wish to flourish? Who will read The Underground Girls of Kabul? I, for one, hope that it is every foreigner who hopes to understand and assist Afghans in their torturous climb towards a fuller future in which the countries gendered fractions may grow whole.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Doreen

    I won this book from a Goodreads Giveaway! What an amazing, revealing, educational piece of work!! Afghanistan's history, culture and traditions are explained in detail. Yes, we know that women are their husbands' property. We know that there are neither rights nor freedoms for women in this middle eastern country. This book goes FAR BEYOND what the average Westerner thinks or believes about Afghanistan. The immediate focus of this book is the practice of bacha posh; allowing daughters to live I won this book from a Goodreads Giveaway! What an amazing, revealing, educational piece of work!! Afghanistan's history, culture and traditions are explained in detail. Yes, we know that women are their husbands' property. We know that there are neither rights nor freedoms for women in this middle eastern country. This book goes FAR BEYOND what the average Westerner thinks or believes about Afghanistan. The immediate focus of this book is the practice of bacha posh; allowing daughters to live as boys until puberty forces them into womanhood. The birth of sons takes precedence over everything else within Afghanistan's society. If a wife fails to produce sons, the husband may take a second wife for that purpose. And until a son is born, a daughter may be dressed as a boy. This saves the family's reputation and standing in the community. The selected daughter is allowed to dress and act as a boy. She has the benefit of education and a taste of the freedoms that only males enjoy. These girls grow to think more independently than those who spend their childhoods as females only. Understandably, when it comes to transition back from boy to girl, there are those who refuse to do so. The research in this book is impressive. Nordberg's fieldwork , as well as accessing the immense trove of written, historical documentation about Afghanistan and its culture, proves that Islam is not the 'problem' in Afghanistan. The problem is the strong belief in centuries-old traditions, combined with non-stop violence and years of foreign intervention that wreak havoc on the political, economic and caste systems there. And how does one go about affecting change? From this book, it seems that foreign interlopers are 'throwing good money after bad'. Western civilization views Afghanistan as committing crimes against women and denying basic civil liberties that we hold dear. Why should our beliefs in gender-equality be pushed upon these people? Perhaps Afghanistan needs to grow at its own pace. Maybe what is right for Westerners cannot be achieved in Afghanistan until their own people are ready to bring about such laws and changes for themselves. This book answers questions about Afghanistan's history and culture, while exposing bacha posh. The value in this book is not only in the answers it reveals, but in the questions that it raises about Afghanistan's future. I'm so glad that I read this book and that I OWN it, thanks to Goodreads.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sadie Forsythe

    3.5 I can read a 300 page novel in a day but it took me a really long time to read this book, I mean months. The reason is that I could only take it in small doses. It's dry. It's depressing and its content takes digesting. I'm really interested in the lives of woman in Afghanistan (or any culture so far removed from my own). My first degree was in anthropology and the reason was that the way people live fascinates me. This isn't the first time I've tried to get a handle on the Afghani culture and 3.5 I can read a 300 page novel in a day but it took me a really long time to read this book, I mean months. The reason is that I could only take it in small doses. It's dry. It's depressing and its content takes digesting. I'm really interested in the lives of woman in Afghanistan (or any culture so far removed from my own). My first degree was in anthropology and the reason was that the way people live fascinates me. This isn't the first time I've tried to get a handle on the Afghani culture and I'll give this book credit for trying to be more well-rounded than most. And I think Nordberg managed it up to about 40% through. Up to that point I was loving that she took a lot of time to place some of the practices that just make no sense by Western standards within a historical, political and religious context so that, while they still feel wrong, wrong, wrong, the reader is able to understand how the practice developed and at one point made some sort of sense. And this was part of why I could only take small doses of the book. When I've read plainly inflammatory texts (some of which I can barely deem better than anti-Afghanistan war propaganda) it's easy to dismiss a lot of the bad stuff as over exaggerated or tell yourself they just left the good stuff out. But when it's presented as balanced and therefore believable it's hard to face in bulk. And lets be clear, life in Afghanistan for women is horrendous. The main problem I had was that this is presented as a piece of nonfiction, as research. And certainly, Nordberg did a lot of fieldwork, conducted a lot of interviews and observed a lot of Afghani daily life. But this is not a piece of straight research. At best, I might call it a well structured, well padded field journal. This is the story of her experience conducting research into the Bascha Posh, as opposed to a presentation of the research results. And as such, it is heavily biased and opinionated. This started becoming more evident at around the 40% mark, when the basha posh stopped being children and the book moved into marriage practices and transitions back into girls. In other words, when they start having personal volition that is subjugated. As an example, there is a quite detailed chapter on marriage practices of non-basha posh girls. While basha posh are usually expected to marry, this is relevant, but the detail it goes into is clearly meant to be defamatory to the culture. Nordberg isn't able to keep her judgment concealed. Granted (and this is important), Nordberg is a lot more open-minded about the culture than most. But she still definitely presents a colored picture of the lives Afghani females live. I went into this book hoping to finally find an author who would present a picture of Afghanistan, admittedly a very androcentric society, as something other than inhabited by nothing more than a bunch of power-hungry perverted old dudes perping on little girls and victims. I got more. I'll admit that. But I also got a lot of the same old same old. I also wasn't entirely clear what the intent of the book was. As I said, it's represented as straight research but isn't, not really. It also repeatedly decries the usefulness and effectiveness of international aid in the region (which I actually agree with her on) but then ends on what essentially amounts to a general call to action. She spends the whole book presenting herself as vested in the culture and then leaves like everyone else. The end result was that the book feels anchorless and as a reader, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be taking away. Similarly, the basha posh tradition, as presented, does not appear to actually be a form of resistance, as the title suggests. Rather, it is a way of functioning within an extremely paternalistic culture. But it's important to note that everyone involved is still functioning under the belief that males are superior to female (socially at the very least). It's just that they see certain aspects of gender (though not sex) as fluid. With one possible exception, none of the basha posh interviewed or their families used the basha posh tradition as a form of social resistance. Instead they used it for personal gain within a system they were not seeking to reform. The lack of male insight is also a glaring omission, especially since there is a whole section titled Men in which men are not interviewed. I understand that this is a book intended to center on females and, as a woman herself, Nordberg may have faced access challenges. But Afghanistan is a country controlled by men. The bosha pash are an open secret. It would have been informative to know how men—fathers, brothers, government officials, etc—saw the practice and felt about associated with theses 'men.' (Though it's worth noting that despite their insistence that they are MEN, Nordberg refers to them as women throughout the book.) Similarly, despite declaring that the foreigners who go to Afghanistan can't ever really understand the culture, all of her 'experts' seem to be foreigners or Afghani women living outside of the accepted behavioural norms. I have to wonder how accurate her information, which she then presented as fact, was. I had the same thought when events that occurred when she was not present were discussed confidently, while it was simultaneously evident that she only received the account from one of the participants. I would have been interested to know how, if at all, the narrative changed from the other person's point of view. However, I sensed that, as a reader, I wasn't supposed to care about anything but the slim perspective the author chose to present the events through. Despite these complaints, I think I highlighted about half the text. There is still a lot to be gained by reading it. The book is garnering a lot of attention and I think it is deserved.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. ARC did not have pictures. I requested this book because I read Nordberg’s original piece for the New York Times. In certain parts of the world, Afghanistan only being one, there is a strong emphasis put on the importance of sons. A woman’s only duty is to give birth to sons, or mostly sons. Women in these cultures are usually seen as less important, less valuable. However, there is a tradition, as Nordberg discovered, of taking a girl and transforming her Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. ARC did not have pictures. I requested this book because I read Nordberg’s original piece for the New York Times. In certain parts of the world, Afghanistan only being one, there is a strong emphasis put on the importance of sons. A woman’s only duty is to give birth to sons, or mostly sons. Women in these cultures are usually seen as less important, less valuable. However, there is a tradition, as Nordberg discovered, of taking a girl and transforming her into a boy, at least, in some cases, until puberty or it is time for her to marry. This type of girl is called a bacha posh. Nordberg looks at this tradition in Kabul and in the process raises awareness about how we see gender and how aid neglects certain key or needy individuals; she also somewhat tentatively discusses why such a tradition occurs. It has to do with honor, but also money and protection. By interviewing and relating the stories of several different underground girls, vary in age and class, Nordberg does paint a boarder picture. It should also be noted that she did change names to protect the identity of the women, girls, and boys. I’m not even sure what gender pronoun to use. At first, it appears that Nordberg is just going to look at the effect of the gender disguise on young girls – pre-teens and teens, but she ranges further than that. She meets a bacha posh, bacha woman really, who is teaching others. She interviews a former bacha posh who struggles to adapt to married life. She looks at the conflict that such a disguise can cause in the family. Furthermore, she also links the tradition with famous crossing dress women in other societies – Mulan, Joan of Arc. There is also a wonderful passage about the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton that makes you think about how things really aren’t that different after all. The heart of the book is the women Nordberg describes and their heartbreaking struggle. Will the teenager be forced to be something she doesn’t want? What will happen to the politician? There is also a look at the role of fathers. The more well adjusted bacha poshs have supportive fathers, and the more educated women have supported fathers. Nordberg seems to suggest that the situation of gender and gender roles is something that every member of society should think about. She does not disregard the societal forces that control not only the women but the men as well. The book isn’t so much a feminist tract, but humanist one. And she has a point. Society likes labels and labels always, eventually, suggest some type of worth. What these women and bacha poshs do is challenge not only traditional definitions of gender, but also love and sexuality. At the very least, the book will have you re-evaluating how your culture sees gender. Nordberg’s reporting is clear and concise. I do not know if the final proof will have photos, but her skill at description makes them unnecessary. The last scene that she describes is absolutely beautiful. Crossposted at Booklikes.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    They dress like boys, act like boys and have the same rights as boys. A ”bacha posh” is a girl in Afghanistan that from an early age are brought up as a boy, and thereby changes her gender identity. The parents have many reasons for this. There's pressure to have sons, to give their daughters another perspective and self-confidence, and superstition - if a girl is dressed like a boy, the next baby will be a son. Regardless of the reason, these girls get more liberty. Until puberty. Azita, a politi They dress like boys, act like boys and have the same rights as boys. A ”bacha posh” is a girl in Afghanistan that from an early age are brought up as a boy, and thereby changes her gender identity. The parents have many reasons for this. There's pressure to have sons, to give their daughters another perspective and self-confidence, and superstition - if a girl is dressed like a boy, the next baby will be a son. Regardless of the reason, these girls get more liberty. Until puberty. Azita, a politician and former member of the parlament, was a bacha posh and is now dressing her daughter as a son. Mehran holds her father's hand, is allowed to eat with him at the table, has eye contact and gets respect from other men. She learns to speak her opinion and look people in the eyes. She lives in a different world from her sisters. In Afghanistan, where bacha, child, means boy and dokhtar, the other, means girl, the possibilities for women are few. According to UN and other organisations for human rights, nine out of ten women are abused by their husbands in some way. This sounds extreme. 40% of the girls are married before they turn 18. Afghanistan is, according to the author, the worst country in the world to have a baby. The life expectancy for women is 44 years, many of which consists of pregnancies. Again, incomprehensible. The bacha posh phenomena is an indication of a patriarchy that forces women to take the role as men to survive. This isn't just a book about women's conditions. It's also a book about courage. There are many terrorist attacks and kidnappings in Afghanistan, and the people in the parlament are armed. Azita's collegues have invested in the opium trade and have accepted money from people with agendas. They afford high security. She refuses to be corrupt. That is a common characteristic for every bacha posh in the book. They are very head strong and determined. And they all refuse to play by the gender rules. We get to meat many bacha poshes. The 16 year old Zahra, the warrior Shahed and the martial arts teacher Nader are some of them. The book gives birth to questions about gender identity and gender differences. According to the men interviewed, women are vulnerable and caring. According to the women, to be a woman means absence of freedom. A greater context is whether or not a person is born into a gender identity. The bacha poshes that Nordberg meets are convinced it is formed by the environment. This is not unique for Afghanistan. The concept of gender is considered relevant in most parts of the world. To show a baby's gender by dressing it in blue or pink was invented in the US as a sell trick in the 1940's. Before that, babies were dressed in white. Rules for clothing has always been a tool to maintain the patriarchate order, according to Nordberg. In France, the law to forbide women wearing pants, was formally abolished as late as 2013. Bacha posh is a universal phenomena. They seem to arise in segregated and uncertain places. They existed as early as the middle ages, in many places in the west, including North America and Sweden, according to the author. In Sweden, an orphan named Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar dressed like a man, went into the army and fought the Russians to provide for her sisters and escape a forced marriage. Jenny Nordberg tries to understand without coloring her words. She gives the reader a piece of the puzzle that might make it easier to view the complexity of the structure. Her book indicates that it's the people with economic power that hold the key. When Azita became the supporter of the family, her husband stopped abusing her. Nordberg thinks that men have to realize that women are not a threat, and that a daughter or wife with education and a job, are a benefit for the family and society as a whole. The organisations that try to improve the situation for women by speaking to women should instead turn to the men, since the ultimate power lies with them. Nordberg explains that women rights have become an issue for the elite, and associated with the west, something nationalistic and islamistic people feel they have to distance themselves from. Another problem is that when the foreigners are withdrawing from the country, the elite, that sympathized with them, also leave. The people left are conservative and therefore it's difficult to improve the situation. The books also indicates that it's more difficult to improve women's conditions during uncertainty and war. When Azita was young, she wanted to continue her education and had dreams, but was forced to marry an analfabetic cusin in the countryside. The price was 1000 dollar and some property. Azitas father is an academic and liberal, and his dreams during the communist era were shattered by the talibans, and the family had to flee. He wanted Azita to be able to achieve her goals in life, but considering the dangerous time, he felt he had to marry her off to protect her. She wasn't a traditional woman and her father had to convince her husband to allow her to work. Later, Azita became a politician. This indicates that war is preventing human rights, and that a place has to be peaceful to become more equal. The book is professionally written. The statements are backed up by facts. Everything from UN and other organisations for human rights, to theories by Sigmund Freud and world leading research on gender identity. But, in the end, what makes this book really special, it's the wonderful prose. As a reader, you are transferred into Afghanistan and becomes the little girl, the teenager, the daughter, the wife, the politician, the warrior and the taekwondo teacher. They all have something in common. Everyday is a battle. Jenny Nordberg has an extraordinary passion for he subject. She burns for these women's rights.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Silvana

    When patriarchy is a norm and a society becomes dysfunctional where being a woman is considered a curse, there could be a form of adaptation and (possibly later) resistance lurking in the shadows. Bacha posh is one of them. The idea of crossdressing, taking a gender role of a man, is seen as a solution, no matter how temporary it is. This construct predates Islam, beginning at least from the Sassanid Empire era, and is still practiced today. The book was quite a revelation to me - I've never rea When patriarchy is a norm and a society becomes dysfunctional where being a woman is considered a curse, there could be a form of adaptation and (possibly later) resistance lurking in the shadows. Bacha posh is one of them. The idea of crossdressing, taking a gender role of a man, is seen as a solution, no matter how temporary it is. This construct predates Islam, beginning at least from the Sassanid Empire era, and is still practiced today. The book was quite a revelation to me - I've never read the author's expose before nor heard any of this practice in a country like Afghanistan. Indeed women taking up men's role, even dressing and behaving like them, such practice can be found all over the world, from the East to the West. The book has examples of the bacha posh in various stage of life, one of them was still a child, the others were a teen, a married woman, and a paramilitary officer. Some managed to avoid the feared marriages (marriage is a core component of the patriarchal system), some did not. Some experience gender identity disorder. All paths are unique and will definitely provide lots of foods for thought for the readers. The book is not perfect. The author often philosophizing a lot or being repetitive. There's not many interviews with the menfolk either - as she said, involving men in any discussion is key. But maybe she just did not have the access, who knows. Still, a very informative book. Makes one thankful for own freedom and privileges, and hopefully be more empathetic to others who are not as lucky. I am glad I picked this for the Non Fiction Book Club's Book of the Month.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Johanna Hammarström

    This book awoke so many feelings, it made me so angry, sad and irritated. A feeling of hopelessness fills me trough the read - women's situation in Afghanistan is literally a nightmare which is caused by other peoples need for power and money. Reading this book the standpoint is that change has to come from within the people. Outside help seems to work sometimes but in all seems to just make things worse. But I do think books like this are so important. To spread the stories of actual people livin This book awoke so many feelings, it made me so angry, sad and irritated. A feeling of hopelessness fills me trough the read - women's situation in Afghanistan is literally a nightmare which is caused by other peoples need for power and money. Reading this book the standpoint is that change has to come from within the people. Outside help seems to work sometimes but in all seems to just make things worse. But I do think books like this are so important. To spread the stories of actual people living in this system and help educate about what is going on within the country.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jana

    I had never heard of bacha posh until a few months ago, and all I knew at that point was that a woman named Jenny Nordberg had written a book about them, which was available through the First Reads program, as well as an article for The New York Times back in 2010. Based on the First Reads blurb, I knew that the term had something to do with women and Afghanistan, so I assumed that bacha posh were an all-female brigade of resistance fighters who were subverting the Taliban in some way. Perhaps t I had never heard of bacha posh until a few months ago, and all I knew at that point was that a woman named Jenny Nordberg had written a book about them, which was available through the First Reads program, as well as an article for The New York Times back in 2010. Based on the First Reads blurb, I knew that the term had something to do with women and Afghanistan, so I assumed that bacha posh were an all-female brigade of resistance fighters who were subverting the Taliban in some way. Perhaps the "underground girls" of the title referred to clandestine schools, or a system by which girls were emigrating to other countries. After reading The Underground Girls of Kabul, I can tell you that the truth is far stranger, more hopeful, and more heartbreaking than I ever could have guessed. Basic primers on Afghanistan usually contain some variation of the following tidbits: the country has an abysmally low literary rate, even among its male population; women have extremely limited (generally zero) rights regarding their own lives; the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan from late 1979 to early 1989, which the United States regarded as a Bad Thing because Communism; in response to the Soviet occupation, the United States funded a group known as the mujahideen, which later coalesced into the Taliban. War and oppression have curious effects upon a society, creating restraints and forcing oppressed people to inventively subvert authority. Combine that with a patriarchal society which values sons above all else, uses girls as trade-able commodities, and the result is the "open secret" which everyone in Afghanistan seems to be aware of while refusing to acknowledge its existence: Some families, particularly those with few or no sons, raise their daughters as boys in order to elevate the family's status. In a country where a male child is referred to as "bacha," meaning "son," and a female child is merely "dokhtar," or "other," having "too many" daughters or simply no sons can be cause for ostracization, remove all opportunities for social and economic mobility, and even lead some husbands to divorce/beat/kill their wives. The concept of the bacha posh, meaning "dressed as a boy" in Dari, thus bridges the gap between what a family has and what Afghan society demands. Dressing one's daughter as a son achieves various ends: protection for other daughters and their mother, all of whom cannot leave the house without a male relative; additional income for the family, since sons are allowed to take jobs; there is even a mystical connotation to the action, as many people believe that dressing a daughter as a son will cause legitimate sons to be born. There are some flaws to this concept, as one can expect. The gender-switch is almost never a matter of choice on the daughter's part, and once she reaches the age of puberty she is expected to revert to her "true self" and settle into the roles of wife and mother, regardless of the fact that she has spent the last twelve or thirteen years shouting, going to school, playing, and freely interacting with men while shunning the company of women. The newly-christened girl has no idea how to behave like a proper woman should, how to cook or keep house or prevent herself from going insane while trapped at home. It is this struggle, and the search for information about this practice, that fills the pages of Nordberg's book. Nordberg's writing style is clear, informative, and objective without becoming detached from her subject. She reports facts and statistics (for example, about fifty women per day die from childbirth complications in Afghanistan, while in America that number is roughly two per day) when necessary, but her primary focus is the people who are affected by those numbers, and she brings every one of them to vivid life. From Azita, the frustrated politician, to Azita's bacha posh Mahnoush/Mehran, to Zahra/Naweed and Shukria/Shukur and Niima/Abdul Mateen, to Dr. Fareiba (the "son maker") to Mehran's father and grandfather, and so many others; all of them are treated with the same respect regardless of individual action or motivation. Nordberg herself never intrudes into the narrative with value judgments or Western condescension for "primitive peoples," deftly delivering these stories in a way which makes it seem as if the accounts are being told directly to the reader. This is skillful reporting, elegant and powerful in its simplicity. To sum up: The Underground Girls of Kabul is, in my eyes, an absolutely groundbreaking work. If you care about human rights around the world, gender politics, or excellent journalism, get your hands on this book now. I received a free review copy of this book through a First Reads giveaway on Goodreads. This did not affect my review in any way.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Caren

    This is a splendid, well-written piece of investigative journalism. The book had me literally shaking with anger as I read. The author, who is Swedish, embedded herself in Afghanistan for a number of years, getting to know some women there very well. She uncovered the surprising practice of parents choosing to present a daughter as a son until she reaches puberty. Why would they do this? The answers are complex and the author uses real people to illustrate her conclusions. In most cases, the fam This is a splendid, well-written piece of investigative journalism. The book had me literally shaking with anger as I read. The author, who is Swedish, embedded herself in Afghanistan for a number of years, getting to know some women there very well. She uncovered the surprising practice of parents choosing to present a daughter as a son until she reaches puberty. Why would they do this? The answers are complex and the author uses real people to illustrate her conclusions. In most cases, the family has not yet had the longed-for son. There is a superstition there that dressing a girl as a boy may result in the next baby being a boy. Ms. Nordberg has a very interesting section on how this idea may have sprung from the Zoroastrianism that was practiced in Persia long before Islam arrived. In some families, having a temporary son is a convenience, since that son can run errands and escort "his" sisters when they leave the house. A son can also get a job and bring a bit of income to a family in need. The author acts as an impartial observer most of the time, allowing us to see with her how being perceived as a boy allows the "bacha posh" [=dressed as a boy] to behave as a boy, being much more animated and direct. The problem, as you might imagine, arises when puberty hits and those girls must go back to being girls for whom the only real option is marriage and many children, always hoping most of those children will be sons. She explores the conflicted feelings these girls may have; the change never seems to be easy. Some girls decide they never want to change back and a few attempt to live clandestine lives as men, wearing baggy shirts and short haircuts, affecting masculine postures and lowering their vocal range. The fact that Ms. Nordberg illustrates her reporting with real people makes it all the more heartbreaking. This is a culture where girls are apparently only valued as a womb, and a womb to produce males at that. As a female, I got so angry, parts of the book were hard to read---hard to read, but important to know. Here is a quote from page 211: But freedom as we know it today is yet another evolutionary luxury, American author Robin Morgan says, when I later tell her about Shahed and Nader. "[Birth] sex is a reality; gender and freedom are ideas." And it's all in how we choose to define those ideas. The Afghan women I have met, sometimes with little education but a lifetime of experience of being counted as less than a full human being, have a distinct view of what exactly freedom is. To them, freedom would be to avoid an unwanted marriage and to be able to leave the house. It would be to have some control over one's own body and to have a choice of when and how to become pregnant. Or to study and have a profession. That's how they would define freedom. At one point, some of Ms. Nordberg's female friends ask her why she would come to Afghanistan when her life offers so many options (options they lack). As a journalist, I am sure she spent time there because she saw a story that needed to be told. When she asked Afghans to describe the difference between men and women, men gave attributes they felt women have but that men lack: being sensitive and caring, but less physically capable (page 210). Afghan women, on the other hand, all listed one difference: freedom. "As in: Men have it, women do not." (page 211) Reading this book gave me a deeper appreciation for having been born in the West. Sure, right after I finished this book, I read the news about the CEO of Microsoft saying women shouldn't ask for raises, but still, "we've come a long way, baby", and this book puts that into perspective.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Overmoyer

    We 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 unders We 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.)

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Boyce

    While this is an incredibly powerful book about the lives of women in Afghanistan, The Underground Girls of Kabul is so much more than that. It's a story of defiance, resilience, and hope in a country that has been deemed "the worst place to be a woman". Nordberg tells the stories of bacha posh, women of Afghanistan who live their lives as men instead of women. I had no idea, prior to reading this book, that such even existed. This book not only explains the lives of bacha posh but also dives eve While this is an incredibly powerful book about the lives of women in Afghanistan, The Underground Girls of Kabul is so much more than that. It's a story of defiance, resilience, and hope in a country that has been deemed "the worst place to be a woman". Nordberg tells the stories of bacha posh, women of Afghanistan who live their lives as men instead of women. I had no idea, prior to reading this book, that such even existed. This book not only explains the lives of bacha posh but also dives even deeper- into the lives of those around them and the feelings of the women. The stories of the women, both those that live as bacha posh and otherwise are very powerful. This truly gives a human element to the stories that one hears on the news, about what it is like to live as a woman in Afghanistan. Many of the women in this book defy traditional roles and rules subtly, but powerfully, in a way that many can learn from (even in societies that already have many freedoms). The writing in this book is really pleasant to read. The author writes in a journalistic manner, but it's very easy to read and understand. The authors writing style is one that could definitely be read by many, across ages and regions, and still be understood. Reading this book definitely makes me grateful to be a woman in the United States, as opposed to Afghanistan. This is definitely a book that I would recommend every woman read (and man too) as it's truly a powerful story. I received this book for review purposes via NetGalley.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Wig

    An interesting look at gender issues and ways they are being fought in what the UN calls the world's worst country to be a woman. Boys are the only valued members of the families, and girls are expected to work towards the happiness of the men, stay in their homes, and bear sons. The problems with the aid pouring into the country are also discussed - how people sell the supposed relief food they receive for profit, and how the aid money pouring into the country largely isn't reaching its intende An interesting look at gender issues and ways they are being fought in what the UN calls the world's worst country to be a woman. Boys are the only valued members of the families, and girls are expected to work towards the happiness of the men, stay in their homes, and bear sons. The problems with the aid pouring into the country are also discussed - how people sell the supposed relief food they receive for profit, and how the aid money pouring into the country largely isn't reaching its intended recipients. The book takes us through the daily lives of several brave, frustrated women who want their country to improve but see all the difficulties in getting there. Many parents will dress one or more of their daughters up as boys so their family is not pitied for not having a son, or so the daughter can have freedom, or for various other reasons. Most become girls again when they hit puberty, while a few chose to stay dressed as men to try to get a few of the benefits and freedoms men have. The author admits that there is not a clear, straightforward solution to the gender issues in Afghanistan. She does acknowledge that the environment is very bad for women and something needs to change. An interesting and eye-opening read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Steph

    In Afghanistan, there are girls who are raised as boys in order to bring their families prestige and luck. These girls are called bacha posh. Nordberg’s journalistic account of this phenomenon is straightforward and very informative. While I do have a problem with her logic in some cases, I commend Nordberg for bringing this issue to light. Bacha posh is both historical and present-day rejection of patriarchy by those who refuse to accept the ruling order for themselves or their daughters. Nordbe In Afghanistan, there are girls who are raised as boys in order to bring their families prestige and luck. These girls are called bacha posh. Nordberg’s journalistic account of this phenomenon is straightforward and very informative. While I do have a problem with her logic in some cases, I commend Nordberg for bringing this issue to light. Bacha posh is both historical and present-day rejection of patriarchy by those who refuse to accept the ruling order for themselves or their daughters. Nordberg sees bacha posh as a missing piece of women’s history. In that regard, I recommend The Underground Girls of Kabul to all feminists who are willing to recognize their own biases and assumptions and to learn about the bacha posh not only as the dramatic result of patriarchy, but as a group of human beings who live unconventional lives, isolated from others of their kind. Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sharman Russell

    When I grow up, I want to be an investigative journalist. It's hard not to admire the work of this author, spending time in a difficult place like Afghanistan and discovering a cultural practice (young girls passing for boys) that no other Westerner seems to have noticed. Nordberg does a good job setting up the historical and social context for this practice and telling the stories of these Afghan women and girls. Certainly this confirms how much gender is culturally constructed. And that's kind When I grow up, I want to be an investigative journalist. It's hard not to admire the work of this author, spending time in a difficult place like Afghanistan and discovering a cultural practice (young girls passing for boys) that no other Westerner seems to have noticed. Nordberg does a good job setting up the historical and social context for this practice and telling the stories of these Afghan women and girls. Certainly this confirms how much gender is culturally constructed. And that's kind of wonderful. There's a real sorrow, of course, in reading about how women are treated in Afghanistan--statistically one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. You don't end this book feeling very happy. I think it's a good thing that this is not why I read books.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Irene

    Nordberg explores the phenomenon of Afghan girls assuming a male identity. This is primarily seen in prepubescent girls in families without sons. In poorer families, it enables the girl to help earn an income for the family. In more affluent families, it may be done to avoid the stigma of not having a son or to allow the girl more freedom. In rare incidences, the girl continues to function with a male identity into adulthood. Nordberg also discusses cultural attitudes to gender and social restri Nordberg explores the phenomenon of Afghan girls assuming a male identity. This is primarily seen in prepubescent girls in families without sons. In poorer families, it enables the girl to help earn an income for the family. In more affluent families, it may be done to avoid the stigma of not having a son or to allow the girl more freedom. In rare incidences, the girl continues to function with a male identity into adulthood. Nordberg also discusses cultural attitudes to gender and social restrictions on females in Afghanistan. By focusing on a few families, Nordberg gives this practice a personal feel.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tejas Janet

    In contemporary Afghanistan, parents sometimes opt to dress a daughter as a boy and present him as a son. This practice, known as "bacha posh," is found in a variety of countries in different time frames though at present it seems most common in the middle eastern context due to existing cultural strictures on gender roles. There are various reasons for this practice relating primarily to the pressure from society to have sons. An honorary son can perform tasks that a daughter is barred from doi In contemporary Afghanistan, parents sometimes opt to dress a daughter as a boy and present him as a son. This practice, known as "bacha posh," is found in a variety of countries in different time frames though at present it seems most common in the middle eastern context due to existing cultural strictures on gender roles. There are various reasons for this practice relating primarily to the pressure from society to have sons. An honorary son can perform tasks that a daughter is barred from doing, like running errands, helping out in the family store, and escorting sisters in public. There is also often a “magical” aspect to this practice whereby it is believed that having a "bacha posh" son causes the mother to bear sons. It also allows the daughters a time of freedom and independence that is valued by some parents to help their daughters be stronger, more independent women. This is a creative solution for allowing a daughter some time period of greater freedom within a society highly constrained and marked by war, poverty, illiteracy, and high mortality in addition to institutionalized gender inequality. Except by strict “Islamic conservatives,” this time of being a “son” is tolerated (in a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of way) and not considered against Islamic law – as long as the daughter is restored to her rightful place as a daughter before or just after reaching puberty. In some cases, a daughter may be treated as a son from birth whereas in other cases she may be designated as a son at a later date. The "bacha posh" women that we meet in this book have a range of reactions to the prospect of being restored or changed to daughters and women so that they might become wives and mothers to fulfill their culturally expected roles. Some do so willingly, some reluctantly, and a small group not at all, who vow to live as “men” for the rest of their lives. They also have differing degrees of successfulness in making this gender transition. The portraits in Nordberg’s book are based on five years of personal field work and investigative study. Her focus on the subculture of the "bacha posh" serves as a window into women's lives in Afghanistan today as well as a springboard for a larger discussion about gender-identity formation. Her study concludes with a brief, limited review of literature to connect her study to the struggle against patriarchy and the essential need for women’s rights in order to build peaceful civilizations. Fascinating, insightful, and well written. Rating = 4.5 stars

  26. 4 out of 5

    Cam

    You learn about the importance of having a male in the household. It’s so important that it is not uncommon for the parents to turn a female child into a male until they hit puberty!!!! Very interesting read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Norberg is an excellent piece of investigative journalism. Ms. Nordberg based her book on interviews. She became aware of the not much talked about custom of girls dressing as boys. This is a country where men have all the privileges and rights, women are nothing. Women very rarely divorce their husbands because the children are the husband’s “property”. Why does this happen? After reading this book, you can only con The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Norberg is an excellent piece of investigative journalism. Ms. Nordberg based her book on interviews. She became aware of the not much talked about custom of girls dressing as boys. This is a country where men have all the privileges and rights, women are nothing. Women very rarely divorce their husbands because the children are the husband’s “property”. Why does this happen? After reading this book, you can only conclude that this is the only way that women can work within the culture. Sometimes they are forced to become boys via dress and short hair in order to support their family. Women can only go outside to the market if they have a male escort. If they don’t have any males in their family, then a girl is asked to be a bocha posh, sort of like a third sex. I remember someone in my college class in California could only come on a tour of a Buddhist temple with the rest of the class if she had a male escort. Her father, and three of her brothers came with her. Back in Afghanistan, what are you to do if there are only females in your family? The author talked to several bocha posh. They had different reactions to being asked, some had volunteered. Just before puberty, many of them changed back into girls but some did not want to go back after they had experienced freedom. You can’t just go into a completely different culture and change things like gender roles or the value of women. You need to have insight and this author provides it. She has learned much about the Afghan current culture and the past. She brings up one important requirement that would be necessary for the country to change in regards to women. This country has only a 10% literary rate and many live in deep poverty. The author took a lot of risks to provide this report, she averaged about two death threats a week while she was in Afghanistan. I highly recommend this book for those who want to have a deeper understand women’s situation in Afghanistan. You can’t rush in and make changes, you have to have insight and learn how the society works and doesn’t work. I received this Advance Reading Copy as a win from FirstReads but that in no way influenced my thoughts or feelings in this review.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Molly

    This is a book in search of a good editor. It could have been told in far fewer words! It got tiresome after about 150 pages.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nicole P

    I had read Jenny Nordberg's NY Times articles on this subject first and have been meaning to get to this book. It was a fantastic read. Just like the articles, Jenny thoroughly did her research and investigation and brings to light a topic/custom that is not well-known around the world. I found the book to be riveting, informative and interesting. This book deals with gender identity issues in a interesting and griping way. I had read Jenny Nordberg's NY Times articles on this subject first and have been meaning to get to this book. It was a fantastic read. Just like the articles, Jenny thoroughly did her research and investigation and brings to light a topic/custom that is not well-known around the world. I found the book to be riveting, informative and interesting. This book deals with gender identity issues in a interesting and griping way.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ashes

    When girls dress and live like boys in Afghanistan, they're called "bacha posh" - a practice the world knew little about, I suppose, until Jenny Nordberg wrote about it. In "the worst place to be a woman", some daughters in the family are brought up a sons, for a variety of reasons. Being a man doesn't simply mean "male" for these women - it means freedom. A great read on women's rights in Afghanistan, but also on women's right in general. When girls dress and live like boys in Afghanistan, they're called "bacha posh" - a practice the world knew little about, I suppose, until Jenny Nordberg wrote about it. In "the worst place to be a woman", some daughters in the family are brought up a sons, for a variety of reasons. Being a man doesn't simply mean "male" for these women - it means freedom. A great read on women's rights in Afghanistan, but also on women's right in general.

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