Living in a man’s world – The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg



The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg
The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

I’ve recently signed up with Blogging for Books. Basically, they let you choose a complimentary e-book to read in return for an honest review ( and some free publicity on your blog)

This week I received a digital review copy of The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg (in Edelweiss by Random House). I found it insightful and interesting and would recommend it. It certainly made me rethink what it means to live in a man’s world.

The Underground Girls of Kabul is a fascinating and moving investigation that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl.

When a baby is born in Afghanistan there is a 50-50 chance that the birth will be considered a disaster for the family. It is possible that the mother will be reviled and the family will be ostracised. Before the birth the family pray for a propitious outcome, that is, that the baby will be a boy. A baby girl in this culture is a major disappointment. All Afghan families need sons and if the wife is unable to have them (It is considered to be the wife’s responsibility) then they may designate a daughter to become bacha posh.

Award winning journalist, Jenny Nordberg has written a moving and powerful account of those who live secretly in a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom. She provides an interesting and well researched account of the age-old tradition of bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as “dressed up like a boy”) a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. These girls are dressed as boys and enjoy freedoms and status that they could not dream of as girls. They can go to school, wear trousers, speak up and have opinions, play football, ride a bike- the list is endless. It seems that the practice, while not openly acknowledged, is not unusual and that health workers and teachers mainly collude with and respect the family wishes. The deception is carried on until the onset of puberty makes it impossible to sustain, at which the point the basha posh disappears and reappears as a girl. Sometimes the bacha posh will be replaced when an actual son is born, or a younger sister may be chosen to become basha posh.

Divided into four parts, Nordberg follows women such as Azita Rafaat, a parliamentarian and the mother of seven-year-old Mehran, who she is raising as a Bacha Posh . Zahra, a teenage student living as a boy who is about to display signs of womanhood as she enters puberty and Skukria, a hospital nurse who remained in a Bacha Posh disguise until she was twenty, and who now has three children of her own. She highlights the plight of women who, having enjoyed the freedom of living as a boy in a male orientated world, are thrust into the female role of wife and mother and of those who prefer to continue the deception into adulthood.

Jenny Nordberg is an award winning journalist based in New York with a long record of investigative reports for, among others, the New York Times. In 2010 she received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism for a television documentary on Afghan Women.







5 thoughts on “Living in a man’s world – The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

  1. One has to read this kind of lectures every once in while to keep the mind on earth. Sometimes I feel we dehumanize ourselves with all the nonsenses we have nowadays on literature, films, and specially on tv.
    I can’t wait to read Jenny Nordberg’s work and delve into this no very far (and wild) world.

    Loved your review!


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