Saturday, October 11, 2014

Book Review: 'The Underground Girls of Kabul,' by Jenny Nordberg

Province of Men

By RAFIA ZAKARIA, NYT, OCT. 9, 2014

In August 2010, Time magazine published a picture of a mutilated Afghan girl on its cover — along with a warning to its readers. The image was “distressing” and “scary,” cautioned Richard Stengel, then the magazine’s managing editor, but it would “confront readers with the Taliban’s treatment of women” and allow them to decide “what the U.S. and its allies should do in Afghanistan.” He wrote that he had shown the image of the noseless girl to his own sons, aged 9 and 12. Both of them “immediately felt sorry for Aisha.”

Sympathy and the moral righteousness borne of the project of liberating girls like Aisha from the Taliban were then, and are today, dominant frames in how Westerners view Afghan women. The details of Afghan lives that do not fit easily into the plot of pity or the fantasy of freedom are almost always ignored. It is in this realm of overlooked narratives and hidden details that Jenny Nordberg, a journalist who contributed to a Pulitzer Prize-winning series in The New York Times in 2005, sets her investigation into the lives of Afghan women. Her book, “The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan,” delves into the practice of “bacha posh,” in which prepubescent Afghan girls are dressed and passed off as boys in families, schools and communities. Through extensive interviews with former bacha posh, observation of present ones and conversations with doctors and teachers, Nordberg unearths details of a dynamic that one suspects will be news to the armies of aid workers and gender experts in post-invasion Afghanistan.

(More here.)

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