...I can pray for small things, like fertile fields, a mother’s love, a child’s smile—a life that’s less bitter than sweet.
I once had a friend declare she never reads fiction; she only reads book that teach her something. I looked her squarely in the eyes and said, "I'm not sure we can still be friends." I was kidding. Sort of. Novels, after all, have been and continue to be some of my greatest teachers.
I learned right along with Scout and Jem that "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it." Through literature, I've done just that: I've found hope through words on a trash heap in Cambodia; become a young book thief trying to make sense of the cruelty in my own country; felt the sting of poverty in a place where only one tree grows; and been haunted by the child I loved enough to kill in order to save from a fate I considered worse than death.
Now, in the pages of The Pearl that Broke Its Shell, I have shared in the betrayal felt by Rahiba, a thirteen-year-old Afghan girl, whose drug-addicted father sells her into marriage with a warlord for opium—while her mother looks on in horror, powerless to save her. Rahiba, who spent four years as a bacha posh (an ancient custom allowing girls to pass as boys until they reach a marriageable age), finds strength in the freedom she felt as a boy and the education it afforded her. She finds hope in what seems a hopeless situation from the stories told to her by her aunt, and fiercest ally, Khala Shaima, about her great-great grandmother, Shekiba, who found strength in passing as a boy as well.
The story interweaves the tales of these two women, who despite living a century apart, face the same plight—the very one many Afghan women face today. I won't lie, there are passages in this book that are hard to read. Imagine living them instead. At the heart of it though, is hope. Hope that women—who so often turn against, rather than to, each other—do at times find refuge and rescue in one another and realize they are at their strongest together. Hope in the knowledge that strong roots can sustain those who dare to risk changing the course of their lives. Courageous roots run deep.