Book Review: The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan, Jenny Nordberg (2014)

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Engaging, Informative, Interrogative; Intersectional Gender Studies At Its Best

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

The bacha posh […] is a human phenomenon, and exists throughout our history, in vastly different places, with different religions and in many languages. Posing as someone, or something, else is the story of every woman and every man who has experienced repression and made a bid for freedom. It is the story of a gay U.S. Marine who had to pretend he was straight. It is the story of a Jewish family in Nazi Germany posing as Protestants. It is the story of a black South African who tried to make his skin lighter under apartheid. Disguising oneself as a member of the recognized and approved group is at the same time a subversive act of infiltration and a concession to an impossible racist, sexist, or otherwise segregating system.

Investigative journalist Jenny Nordberg was researching a larger story about Afghan women when she stumbled upon the practice of bacha posh (“dressed up like a boy” in Dari). During a visit with Azita Rafaat, one of the few women* to be elected to Afghanistan’s newly formed Parliament, one of Azita’s four children let the family’s loosely guarded secret slip: “Our brother is really a girl.” And so begins The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan.

(More below the fold…)