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The Pearl That Broke Its Shell    by Nadia Hashimi order for
Pearl That Broke Its Shell
by Nadia Hashimi
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

This story of the lives of two separate generations of Aghani women fascinates. A young woman, Rahima, enjoys her aunt's tales of great-aunt Shekiba. Both of them are from impoverished families and both have much to endure at a very young age. Because of their situation, they follow the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows them to dress as males and gives Rahima the opportunity to attend school and Shekiba a position at the palace.

The book's inscription, 'Seawater begs the pearl to break its shell,' from the Persian poet Rumi, encapsulates the attempts these women make to realize their ambition. In contrast to the women around them, they have a strong urge to stand as individuals. In that society, women had no rights, and the men to whom they were attached could literally do with them as they pleased. So, to achieve their ambitions, both Rahima and Shekiba must endure many hurtful hours.

At the same time, the men to whom they belonged had their own problems, and the story reveals much about the society at that time; how some men turned to opium, others to wife-beating, to assuage their frustration. At the end of the two stories there are only faint glimmerings of hope for a better world.

This is an important work. Personally, I would have preferred that the stories of the two women didn't switch so quickly back and forth. It was a distraction because their stories, though unique, were similar in many aspects, and it required some work to get back to say, Rahima's story, when we just had a brief mention of what was happening to Shekiba. Other readers, though, may not mind this. Try it and see.

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