Sep 14, 2022

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

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

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The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan audiobook

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Review #1

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan audiobook free

I found this book fascinating in many respects. It is full of information about Afghanistan, the traditional culture, and the changes to womens lives that occurred with the various foreign powers that exerted control over the country.

Afghanistan is a very strict patriarchal society. The importance of a male offspring is paramount. A pregnant woman is said to dream the sex of her unborn child. She is at fault if she does not have a boy. The community looks down upon families that do not have a male child. Sometimes a family that has had no male offspring will announce the birth of a boy and dress a girl baby as a boy. At times, the community knows this is a girl pretending to be a boy, but even a fake boy is better than a girl. This practice called Bacha Posh is not officially acknowledged but is not uncommon in the society. Sometimes a family will justify the need for a fake boy because a male child can go out and work in the community and bring in money for the family. A female cannot get a job or play outside; girls are kept inside, and in some cases, forbidden to even look out the window.

When the bacha posh reaches puberty, she is expected to revert back to being female and is expected to marry. In some cases, bacha posh resist the change back to a female role, since the relative freedom and power is in sharp contrast to an Afghan womans existence. Boys have more fun. Girls lives are severely restricted. If the bacha posh stays as a male pretender past puberty, the transition back to a female can be a problem, and the girl may never feel her place as a woman.

The author came to Afghanistan to investigate the practice of Bacha Posh. She interviews many women in the communities, including Azita. Azita is a politician who is a member of Parliament, but she has very little power as a woman. Azitas father, a Kabul University Professor, had admired her intellect and wanted a great future for his daughter. During the period when the Russians had exerted control over Afghanistan, female equality, including equal rights to an education, was emphasized. Azita received a quality education. However, when the Taliban came to power, her worried father forced her to marry a cousin, an illiterate son of a farmer who beat her and expected her to live with his first wife and children and still provide for the extended family. Azita had twin girls and no male offspring. Desperate to save face with the community and keep her standing as a politician, she pretended one of the twins was a boy. Her female child Mehran, was made a basha posh.

The book is primarily the authors research, her observations in Afghanistan through her eyes. Some artistic license came into play. One character in the book was really a fusion of a few different people. Decidedly the book has historical significance and is worth reading. There is a good deal to learn here. Bravo for most of the book. Too bad the author ruined the ending.

Unfortunately, the book is tainted with faulty science. The last part of the book was disappointing and in sharp contrast to most of the writing. Once the author gets away from her detailed observations and starts to draw conclusions that she is not qualified to make, there is a problem. At the end of the book, her conclusions are even more elucidated.

The author insists evidence shows that there are almost no real differences in male and female brains from birth. They are essentially the same. The environment is the determining factor. A child is raised a certain way and expected to act a certain way. A child forms habits associated with the male or female sex. These learned behaviors are ingrained and feel natural to the child.

This kind of faulty science is harmful and goes against the research and thorough conclusions of the professionals in the American Psychiatric Association. Children are born with different masculine and feminine tendencies from their birth. However, in the authors view, a gay child can be changed to the correct sexual orientation by therapy. This is the view proclaimed by certain conservative groups in this country, groups that do not believe in science. I find this very disturbing.

I would have given this book a five-star rating if the author had kept her writing to observations about Afghan society. In fact, I was raving about this book to several friends before the author changed course. Despite the excellent quality of most of the book, I can only give her 3 stars due to the false scientific conclusions she insists upon delivering to her readers.


Review #2

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan audiobook streamming online

The Underground Girls of Kabul is an extremely readable, yet heart-breaking and eye-opening immersion in a culture that is brutal to women. It would also make a great choice for book clubs.

Major Themes:
Womens rights, patriarchal societies, the Middle East, Islam, the Taliban, marital dynamics, war, gender identity

What I Liked:
– This is one of those books where you learn a ton, but dont realize it. I felt like I was just reading a story, but I might as well have been taking a course on life in Afghanistan (particularly for women), Islam, the Taliban, and the affects of war on regular Afghans.
– The book goes way beyond the Afghan (actually, this custom can also be found in many other countries) custom of girls living as boys. It paints a vivid picture of what it means to be an Afghan woman, the importance Afghans place on every family having a son, gender and sexuality issues, marital dynamics, and patriarchal societies.
– Nordberg clearly explained why Afghan families sometimes raise their daughters as sons and emphasized that there are a variety of reasons a family might choose this path. Though some of these reasons are inexplicable to a Westerner (i.e. having a bacha posh ensures that, via magic, the next child will be a son), Nordberg helped me understand how these people, given their history, customs, and surroundings, could resort to such beliefs.
Nordberg focused on a rare female member of Parliament, Azita, to illustrate the broader bacha posh custom. Using Azita as the focal point gave me a specific person to root for.
– This book was chock full of did you know tidbits, which I love in my nonfiction. For example, Afghans idolize Jack Bauer from the TV show 24, Afghan womens rights actually improved during the Soviet occupation (because the Soviets de-emphasized religion), Thursday nights in Afghanistan are for conjugal traditions, and Saudi Arabia first allowed women to participate in the Olympics in 2012.

What I Didnt Like:
– Nordberg touched on the Afghan populations general impressions of its various occupiers over the years, but I was particularly curious about this and wished shed gone a bit deeper. It was fascinating that the Afghans actually viewed the Soviets as liberators from mujahideen infighting, but I couldnt quite get a handle on what they think of the Americans (although, this could probably comprise an entirely separate book).

A Defining Quote:
“Regardless of who they are, whether they are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, Afghan women often describe the difference between men and women in just one word: freedom. As in: men have it, women do not.”

Good for People Who Like:
Investigative journalism, books about marriage, books that make you think, womens issues

Check out my blog, Sarah’s Book Shelves, for more reviews.


Review #3

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

The underground girls are people born female, but raised as boys, even though the deception may be an open secret, simply because of the social disadvantages attaching to families with only girl children. As you might imagine, at some stage, most of these “boys” are obliged to turn back into girls, which can be hard on them. The author becomes friendly with several of these women and we learn how they are doing later in their lives, some having married. I also learned quite a bit about Afghanistan, its present condition, the influence of the Taliban, and Afghan marriages. With the Taliban in abeyance, a few women have even entered politics, but I got the impression that very few women have much freedom–or even happiness–in Afghanistan, so the book left me feeling somewhat frustrated and sad. Still, well worth reading, and it is an easy read, too, not a dry social study sort of thing.


Review #4

Audio The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan narrated by Kirsten Potter

Interesting topic I was unaware of the acceptance in Afghanistan of bringing up a girl as a boy in a family to enhance the family’s standing in the community, especially when a family already has many daughters and no son. A very sad and confusing situation in the 21st Century! The book is written in a journalistic style with the author interviewing mostly women regarding this issue and accounting the reasons, experiences and consequences. Having been treated within the home, and in the outside world, with all the respect and freedom boys in Afghanistan enjoy, the expectation that the girl must then transition back to a female at puberty so that the girl can then be married off is almost the cruelest twist of all. Women are treated as a commodity and a possession even within educated families. The people have been driven to this as a survival mechanism by extreme Islam.


Review #5

Free audio The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan – in the audio player below

It says it all in the title. I mostly happen across books but saw this in a listing for best nonfiction 2014 and had to buy it without waiting for the price to drop or it come up as a deal. It’s taken me a while to read it but it’s easy to drop in and out of. It is very interesting. I am so glad this was written although of course it leaves you wanting to do something to help.


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