The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

Book Review: 

There are few words that would do this story justice, deeply personal accounts told in an all-encompassing way, giving a flavor for the women of Afghanistan that will open new doors for readers of all ages and stages of life.

The prose is lovely and lyrical, the main storyteller is Rahima, the youngest of three sisters that were sold into marriage by their father when Rahima was just thirteen. Descriptive and emotive details give readers the insight into all of the confusion, fear, resentment and even obeisance to traditions that are centuries, if not millennia old.  Rahima was the “son’ of the family, the bacha posh, given freedoms that other women do not have, yet never allowing her to rise above her actual position and restrictions as a woman.  With current and remembered events, a recurring thread from an unmarried aunt who tells the tale of an uncle, eunuch and guard to the King’s harem, and plenty of beauty centered on the vista,, the arts and poetry of the country, we see Rahima grow and expand her internal life and determination to be more than just the low bar set for the women of her country.

What remain constant and indefatigable are the women: every woman who is struggling to survive and adapt to a country where wars, power struggles, political upheaval and religious fanatics are part of the daily landscape, and bound to change repeatedly and without warning.  This was an emotionally raucous ride, filled with highs and lows, fear and utter breath-holding as events are laid out to feed a reader’s visual and emotional reactions in a way that is fulfilling and visceral, not overwhelming.  In fact, the style and voice seem to encourage a sense of hope, tied to the hopes and dreams for different held by Rahima, and the pages almost turn themselves.

I had a difficult time believing that this was a debut novel from Nadia Hashimi: the writing is clear and evocative with information necessary to those unfamiliar with the traditions delineated without overburdening the text with explanations.  The words flow beautifully and freely, and the ideas of gender inequality, the rich history and traditions of the Afghani people, and the struggle faced by its women are clearly presented and explained, leaving readers with a far better understanding and feel for the country that extends beyond the political rhetoric of the day.

I will always return to my own belief that well told fictionalized stories that show a culture, person or situation can be an invaluable asset to those who want a better understanding, or a unique perspective on another life and way of being.  The Pearl that Broke its Shell is one of those stories, managing to engage and enchant while all the while presenting a story rich in fact and tradition.

The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

Title: The Pearl that Broke Its Shell
Author: Nadia Hashimi
Genre: Literary Fiction, Literary Fiction /Family Saga, Multi-Cultural
Published by: William Morrow
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Pages: 464
Audio Length: 16 Hours: 10 minutes
Rated: five-stars
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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?

A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

About Nadia Hashimi

Nadia Hashimi was born and raised in New York and New Jersey. Both her parents were born in Afghanistan and left in the early 1970s, before the Soviet invasion. Her mother, granddaughter of a notable Afghan poet, went to Europe to obtain a Master’s degree in civil engineering and her father came to the United States, where he worked hard to fulfill his American dream and build a new, brighter life for his immediate and extended family. Nadia was fortunate to be surrounded by a large family of aunts, uncles and cousins, keeping the Afghan culture an important part of their daily lives

With her rigorous medical training completed, Nadia turned to a passion that had been ignored for too long. Her upbringing, experiences and passions came together in the form of stories based in the country of her parents and grandparents (some even make guest appearances in her tales!). Her debut novel, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell will be on sale May 6, 2014. She’s putting the finishing touches on her second novel about the often tragic plight of Afghan refugees across Europe.

She and her husband are the beaming parents of two curious, rock star children and an African Grey parrot.

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