Friday, November 7, 2014

The Underground Girls Of Kabul: The Hidden Lives of Afghan Girls Disguised as Boys, by Jenny Nordberg

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

In this brilliant work of empathy and understanding, Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg takes us inside the lives of Afghan women and their struggle for a better life.

Life for Afghan women is really no better than being a constant prisoner, with men holding the jail keys. Women must be covered up at all times lest they provoke the lust in men and they can’t travel without a man as an escort. Career wise, the only path is marriage. Marriages are arranged, brides literally sold off, and husbands must be obeyed. Once married, the first job for an Afghan wife is to produce a son. Having a son immediately raises a woman’s status, and that of her family. So desperate are women and their husbands to have boys that, after producing several girls in a row, a couple may decide to turn one of their girls into a boy.  Turning a girl into a boy is as simple as cutting her hair and putting on boys clothing.

What makes The Underground Girls of Kabul such an engaging book is Jenny Nordberg’s intimate reporting style. The book gives you a very real understanding of what it’s like to live as a woman in Afghanistan. But so much more than that, it shows how real people cope when living in such a society, in a country constantly suffering from war. You come to understand so many of the country’s problems through the lens of gender.

Another reason the book is so skilful at eliciting the reader’s empathy is that Nordberg throughout the text points out how we in the West have only very recently improved our laws to protect and emancipate women. We can’t hold the high moral ground.

If you really want to understand Afghanistan from the inside, what it’s like for its people, living with constant war, violence, poverty, yet still having hope of a better future, The Underground Girls of Kabul makes for essential reading.


The Underground Girls Of Kabul: The Hidden Lives of Afghan Girls Disguised as Boys, by Jenny Nordberg. Published by Virago. ISBN: 9781844087747  RRP: $29.99

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