by Gloria: What kind of society values sons so highly that desperate women dress their daughters in pants and raise them as boys? And what happens to those daughters when they reach puberty and suddenly have to live as women in a society that demands that they be clothed from head to foot and never appear in public unless accompanied by a male family member?
Jenny Nordberg explores these questions in her thought-provoking book, “The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan.”
Nordberg introduces us to these “bacha posh,” women who live or have lived as men, and we discover that this practice is not specific to Afghanistan or Islam or even to the 21st century. The reasons for bacha posh are cultural, religious and financial, an offshoot of a patrilineal society in which a woman's sole purpose is to bear a son.
I could hardly put Nordberg's book down. It is, above all, enlightening. And at other times depressing and infuriating. “The Underground Girls of Kabul” shows how women are oppressed in one of the most war-torn countries in the world, but it also reveals how many women in Afghanistan are trying to push back against the oppression and find freedom for themselves and their daughters.
by AmberBug @ ShelfNotes (CT): Quirky, that is the perfect word for this book. If The Room lasted any longer (approx. 125 pages), I would have picked a less pleasing adjective to describe it. Bjorn, the main character, is completely on the spectrum and the reader is fully aware of this after a few pages in. He clearly likes to do things a certain way and can’t understand why people may live in separate realities from his perfect one. A great example of this was when he sees a drawing his coworkers child has made (primitive drawing of a sun and mound of grass), but he can’t understand why she has posted this for everyone to see. He feels completely baffled as to why someone would subject others to looking at something so deplorable. This should give you a little insight into the kind of character Bjorn is, this is also a great way to determine if you want to read this book. Does Bjorn sounds like someone you can spend 125 pages with? For me, it was a resounding YES. I love reading behind the eyes of someone so different from me, even IF they do infuriating things.
The whole book is set in Bjorn’s workplace, has a cast of characters only from that workplace and focuses on only the relationships within that office. Again, this might not be for everyone but I really liked it. I thought it brought a little lightness to the topic and was a great setting for someone with OCD/Autism to be driven to the brink of despair. I felt terrible for Bjorn and how his coworkers treated him, he obviously can’t help himself… but at the same time, his uniqueness was also the thing that had me laughing for much of the book. I wouldn’t call this a comedy or a drama, maybe a dramady? Anyways, I don’t have much more to say other than I really enjoyed it, nice and short but completely for me. I like novellas like this and I wish I would come across them more often.
by Laura (US): I describe this as a great book and I really did like it, but I thought it dragged in parts. The dialog was well written and the French terms and words were translated well, though I do speak French. Very apt descriptions of wartime Europe.[Top]
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul NSW Australia): “The tin roof of the Italian's hut flashed like a semaphore at the clouds scudding over the moon, smoky white clouds, fraying at the edges, with deep purple bellies”
The Paperbark Shoe is the first novel by West Australian-born novelist and short story writer, Goldie Goldbloom. It won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Fiction in 2008, and the Literary Novel of the Year from the ForeWord Magazine (Independent Publishers) in 2011. In 1943, Italian Prisoners of War were sent out to work on West Australian farms, a welcome source of labour at a time when able-bodied men were away at war. Antonio and Gianpaolo arrive at Mr Toad's farm on the Cemetery Road, five miles west of Wyalkatchem, dressed in their maroon-dyed uniforms.
This remote holding (“On one side of us stands the uninhabited coast, thousands of rocky miles patrolled by sharks, and on the other stands the vast, appalling desert of the great red centre, studded with the bones of animals and men that have strayed there and melted into the earth”) is home to Gin Toad, albino, prize-winning pianist, mother of three and two months pregnant; and Toadie, known for his collection of women's corsets. Both misfits in society, together for reasons that never included love.
When Antonio flatters Gin with attention and compliments, her attention is drawn to Toadie's shortcomings: “I can hear him now, his voice so like the croaking of a frog in a bucket, his deep sniffs punctuating each sentence”. The nature of their marriage irritates her more than ever: “He never touched me in the daytime, in the light, that man who ran his hands so tenderly over the horses, who touched his nose to their velvet muzzles and murmured to them as he gazed into their eyes. He had it in him, a capacity for love. But he hid it from me” Goldbloom's plot goes where expected, but with a twist. Her characters are a breed apart: many are quirky, all are in some way flawed, and while this can be endearing, the only truly appealing character in this tale is young Alfie. All the rest are selfish, some to an appalling degree. Her descriptive prose is beautiful and she certainly captures the feel of the West Australian desert and the small town attitudes of the 1940s. An outstanding debut.
by Brenda S (Langley, B.C.): The story is told in the voice of a different character for each chapter with one character being of the wealthy elite while another is of the down trodden poor. The author uses great descriptive language to show the disparity between these two classes as well as between the perceived societal mores and the actual mores of each class. For example, men of ‘quality’ don’t always act in a gentlemanly like manner. I mean one of the settings for this novel is a brothel. There is plenty of dirty goings-on, so be prepared for some coarse language as well.
The novel isn’t just about female boxing, but an exploration of finding your identity within your class. I really enjoyed it.
by Gayle Marra: I read this book last year. Each time I talk books with a friend or book club, this book comes to mind. I was totally absorbed while reading, and to this day the story haunts me.. I loved, it and I am reading it again. This author reminds me of Geraldine Brooks.[Top]
by Pam (Lake Mary, FL): Thrity Umrigar is my new favorite author. This is the third of her books (in a row!) I have read now, and each have been unique, powerful, and wonderful reads. The author is a great story-teller, character developer, and plot line weaver. What talent! This story involves the lives of an American couple who lose their only son, and try to repair their hearts and marriage with a fresh start in India only to find themselves at odds with each other’s political views and an involvement with another bright young boy. Their tragic beginning unfortunately leads to an even more tragic ending as they handle (and do not handle) grief in their own divergent ways.[Top]