The Underground Girls of Kabul

The Underground Girls of Kabul

In Search of A Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan

Book - 2014 | First edition
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An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden Afghan custom that will change your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl. Expanding on her widely read New York Times article "Afghan Boys Are Prized, So Girls Live the Part," in which she uncovered the phenomenon of bacha posh (literally "dressed up like a boy" in Dari), the practice of disguising and raising young girls as boys, Jenny Nordberg constructs a powerful and moving account of the long-standing tradition that has enabled many girls to counter the challenges they face in a deeply segregated society where they have almost no rights. Through extensive in-depth reporting and first-person interviews, Nordberg offers a fascinating, almost fairy-tale-like look at how girls can be willed into looking, behaving, and acting as boys, why mothers would ask that of their daughters, and what ultimately happens when some girls do not want to rescind the prerogatives that go along with living as boys, and later as men. Divided into four parts, following strong characters through childhood, puberty, married life, and childbirth, The Underground Girls of Kabul charts the entire life cycle of Afghan women and gets to the heart of how bacha posh has profoundly affected generations, not only in the greater historical and political context of Afghanistan but also what it means to women everywhere now.
Publisher: New York : Crown Publishers, ©2014
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780307952493
Branch Call Number: 305.409581 NOR 2014
Characteristics: ix, 350 pages ; 25 cm


From the critics

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Aug 31, 2016

I despise books like this, along the lines of cotton candy for the mind one finds at NPR, et cetera!
Yes, it is important to grasp the plight of girls and women in modern-day Afghanistan, but it is far more important to understand that it WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS, that before Jimmy Carter's administration moved to destabilize the then secular government of Afghanistan back in the 1970s, by colluding with Saudi Arabia to move Islamic extremists to Afghanistan's northern border with the old Soviet Union to foment trouble, women weren't under the thumb of the Mujahedeen, or the rebranded Taliban.
Also, it was the Clintons, back in the 1990s, who welcomed the Taliban to America, while barring the brave leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud [to be assassinated by al Qaeda two days prior to 9/11] and also warring on Serbs and Roma, using Islamic extremists in that matter!
Yes, the situation of the Afghanistani female is atrocious - - but it must always be explained how it came to be, just as how it is most logical that Omar Mateen's father [Omar murdered those people in Orlando] would endorse both the Taliban and Hillary Clinton in her presidential campaign!

antrakoka2 Apr 16, 2016

This is one of those life view altering books. This book has a historical significance, documenting all aspects of Afghan woman's life, starting from bathroom use, drinking, eating and breastfeeding and ending with upper levels of government politics.
The journalist who wrote this book is beyond being brave, traveling to rural towns just to meet and get to know the real life of the women in Afghanistan.

Nov 05, 2015

The Underground Girls of Kabul documents a complicated practice that is at once an act of resistance against the socially enforced gender order, and a concession to sexist ideas about what behaviours and activities are appropriate only for boys.

Read my full review here:

Feb 17, 2015

This is one of the most fascinating books that I have read in a long time. It took me a while to digest it before I could write about it. At times I could not put it down and at other times I needed a break from reading it.

From the beginning, I thought that the author would follow the story of a half a dozen girls, but from the stories the author then gathers a fair amount of research in the culture and other cultures of other nations where similar situations have occurred in history.

Background (which is well developed in the book): When a family has no sons, often the youngest girl is dressed in boys' clothing and acts the part of a boy until puberty. It serves the purpose of given status to the family (for having a son), the "boy" can often escort his female relatives to places they could not go without a male relative; and, especially in poorer families, the "son" can help the father at work.

Most of these "sons," return to being girls when they reach puberty.

Many girls are happy for the opportunity, for it gives them the one thing that they lack, i.e. freedom.

It is important that the reader keep an open mind as s/he reads the book, and as a result the reader will learn a lot about the Afghani culture and about the powerful women in the cuture.

Jan 24, 2015

I couldn't disagree more with the previous comment. This is an excellent book explaining the important issues facing women in Afghanistan today. The author covers the history and culture of this part of the world, and gives a well written account of how these women live. I have read many books on this topic, and feel this is one of the best. When you consider all the money that has been spent to 'improve the lives of Afghan women' this shows that little has changed. One comment that stuck for me 'Perhaps some of that money should have been spent on educating the men'
A must read for those interested in the lives of women in other parts of the world.

Jan 03, 2015

This is an entire book that could have easily been a magazine article. Once the basic concept is explained, all the rest is repetition. I'm not in the habit of giving up on books but, having read 20% (according to my Kobo), I'd had enough. Don't bother.


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Nov 05, 2015

“Although none of the girls chose their boyhood voluntarily, most say they enjoy their borrowed status. It all depends on what they get to do with it. For each child, it boils down to perks versus burdens.”

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