It’s 2007 in Kabul and Rahima is the middle child in a family full of daughters and no sons. With restrictions on being able to leave the house, Rahima is made into a bacha posh – an old custom where a daughter is made to look, and be treated like, a boy until she is able to be married off. A century earlier, Rahima’s great aunt Shekiba makes a life out of similar circumstances. In alternating timelines, the stories of two women are told as they walk the difficult path of being female in a place where that means very little.
Not only did I find this debut novel a powerful story but it also feels very timely. There has been so much fear and unrest in the world that, while the “present day” part of this novel was 2007, it still feels very relevant. It’s also eye opening that what Rahima goes through was only in 2007, as some of her experiences felt like it should have happened centuries ago. True, it’s a fictional novel, but I don’t believe some of these occurrences are too far from the reality.
Hashimi weaves the lives of Rahima and Shekiba in such a fluid and beautiful way. Her writing conveys so much strength and vulnerability in these characters that the reader becomes completely immersed in their livelihood. The culture may be familiar to some, and foreign to others but The Pearl That Broke Its Shell feels like it gives us a glimpse into how things are and, seemingly, how little some things have changed in a hundred years. I found myself very frustrated at their circumstances in a lot of moments, and all the more grateful that I grew up in a time and place that allows women to have a voice.
Definitely recommend for fans of Khaled Hosseini (I LOVED The Kite Runner.)