Three Afghan sisters walk home from school, menaced by a boy on a bicycle. They escape, but the damage is done: no more school.
Rahima and her sisters are devastated, but without a brother they have no one to chaperone them, no one to protect their honor, no one to discourage insults from other men. Rahima’s aunt has an idea and begins telling her stories about her great-aunt Shekiba, who was viciously taunted after her face was scarred by an accident with cooking oil. When her immediate family died of cholera, Shekiba was left to the mercy of her scheming relatives, who practically enslaved her and then traded her away to serve another family. Desperate for a measure of freedom, she seized upon the cultural practice of bacha posh, which enabled any family without a son to dress a daughter as a boy. Of course, even a bacha posh must return to being a girl once she reaches maturity. Nonetheless, Shekiba’s tale inspires Rahima to pass as a boy, too. Cutting her hair and donning pants lets her barter at the market, attend classes and play soccer with the boys. Everyone accepts her new position as a son. Even her parents exempt her from certain household duties better left to girls. Unfortunately, Rahima’s opium-addicted father is indebted to a warlord, who has taken an interest in the 13-year-old. After having tasted freedom as a bacha posh, how can she return to the oppression inflicted upon women? Does Shekiba’s story offer any answer? Hashimi’s debut novel nimbly alternates between Shekiba’s and Rahima’s tales, drawing disturbing parallels between two women separated by a century.
A lyrical, heartbreaking account of silenced lives.