Synopsis: Afghan-American Nadia Hashimi’s literary debut novel, The Pearl that Broke Its Shell is a searing tale of powerlessness, fate, and the freedom to control one’s own fate that combines the cultural flavor and emotional resonance of the works of Khaled Hosseini, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Lisa See.
In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters.
But Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom. A century earlier, her great-aunt, Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life the same way.
Crisscrossing in time, The Pearl the Broke Its Shell interweaves the tales of these two women separated by a century who share similar destinies. But what will happen once Rahima is of marriageable age? Will Shekiba always live as a man? And if Rahima cannot adapt to life as a bride, how will she survive?
Review: This is a kind of book that I do not read often and yet I admit when I saw about its release, the topic attracted me right away. Regardless, this is not a theme that Milady (French publisher) usually publishes, and it’s what I found interesting. Something different even though it is well known, given the subject, that the history will not be easy.
We alternately follow two girls here, two people who really have not had an easy life. The first, Rahima, 13, is living in Afghanistan and the second, her grandmother Shekiba at the same age. The two live in different times and yet their lives are alike in many ways.
Rahima comes from a poor family, her mother had no boy, but Rahima will have the chance to turn into a man and to follow a tradition that few are now trying. She will be able to achieve what a man can do without being worried about anything. Yet she is quickly carried away by the power, to the point that she did not realize that women do not really have rights in her country. Forcibly married (as her sisters) to a warrior, a violent man, as a fourth wife and all that at 13, our heroine will have to adapt, try to keep from others her rebellious ideas and she will have to confront her fate with great courage. Oh yes, she will need a lot of it, because she will have to go through terrible trials.
In this kind of book, there is always a character that I prefer to follow than another, and yet here I was completely carried away by the two stories. Indeed, every time I finished reading a chapter from the POV of one girl, I could not wait to find the other one to attend the following events. I must say that it helps a lot to finish the novel quickly.
So as I said, we also discover Shekiba. Oh poor girl … Younger, she had the misfortune to be burned, half of her face, changing her forever. This deformity has isolated her quickly by all, hated and blamed. Everyone thinks it’s a curse, bad luck that nobody wants to have. Only her family is there for her, or at least until she loses everything, yes everything she could have possessed and that’s why she has passed into the hands of families without ever having something to say.
We follow the lives of two young women surviving the most horrible life. We can only be glad not to be in their situation, to do what we want and to live as we wish. We can only sympathize and hope throughout history that all will work out for our two heroines. Yes, because they both so deserve to be happy and live their lives. But nothing is ever simple. It was a great life lesson that the author presents here and I was very touched by the story. I really recommend the novel.