Review: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg


Title: The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan

Author: Jenny Nordberg

Published:  Crown Publishing: Random House September 2014

Status: Read from August 22 to 23, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“We are who we must be.”

In The Underground Girls of Kabul, Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg reveals a hidden practice in Afghanistan of presenting young girls as boys for part, or all, of their childhood. In an oppressive patriarchal society that demands sons at almost any cost, these girls are known as bacha posh.

“[I] have met girls who have been boys because the family needed another income through a child who worked; because the road to school was dangerous and a boy’s disguise provided some safety or because the family lacked sons and needed to present as a complete family to the village. Often…it is a combination of factors. A poor family may need a [bacha posh] for different reasons than a rich family, but no ethnic or geographical reasons set them apart.”

Nordberg attempts to explain the complex role of a bacha posh by sharing the moving personal stories of a number of Afghan women, including Azita, a female parliamentarian who turns her fourth daughter into a boy; Zahra, who refuses her parents’ attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Shahed, an undercover female police officer, who remains in male disguise as an adult.

The author also explores the traditional roots of the practice within the cultural, political and religious framework of Afghan society, and how it contributes to the global dialogue on gender issues. “The way I have come to see it now is that bacha posh is a missing part in the history of women.” concludes Nordberg.

Written with keen insight and sensitivity, The Underground Girls of Kabul is a fascinating and poignant account of women’s lives in Afghanistan.


The Underground Girls of Kabul is available to purchase from

Random House US I AmazonUS I BookDepository I Indiebound

via Booko

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mystica
    Sep 13, 2014 @ 13:17:21

    I found this book to be very moving. The struggles faced by women in Afghanistan make me very glad to be Sri Lankan.



  2. mysm2000
    Sep 13, 2014 @ 23:43:53

    I think this is a story that must be shared. Shelleyrae, I notice there is no reblog button at the top of your blog. Would you mind if I share your link from my blog? I believe women especially should read your review and then the book. What a strange plight these women have survived! Thanks.



  3. Trackback: Review on Book’d Out | Ms M's Bookshelf
  4. Jazz
    Sep 15, 2014 @ 08:45:00

    How apalling that mothers are putting their daughters throught that. 6 yr old Mehran has 2 older sisters so why did the mother not force those 2 girls to dress as boys? Why only the youngest one? Regardless no girl should be put through that. The book is telling us that supposedly they are doing this so the child can work but 6 yr old Mehran and Shubnum are to young to work and why is it that their mothers are prematurely turning them into boys when they cant even work?? I’m concerned that when these girls become adults that they wont turn back into females like in the case of Zahra who doesnt want to be a girl anymore because they have been so accustomed to dressing up as boys that when they grow up they will just keep acting and dressing as men, they will be homosexual gay cross dressers, but not because they want to but because thats what they have been accustomed to due to the lack of judgement and selfishness from the parents, mothers spefically



  5. Jen G. (The Introverted Reader)
    Sep 16, 2014 @ 11:09:30

    Have you read The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi? It’s a fictional take on the bacha posh (I’m still not sure how to word that. You know what I mean). I enjoyed Pearl a lot. I’ll have to check this one out as well.



  6. Jazz
    Sep 16, 2014 @ 14:30:31

    No Shelley Rae, I have no questions, what I have said is based on what I have read and reserched. There are no excuses for these monstruosities. Parents have choices and what they are putting some kids through is not right. They need to stop thinking of themselves and rather think of the psychological effects that this will have on their children, the few children who are being put through that.



  7. Sheila (Book Journey)
    Sep 16, 2014 @ 22:09:35

    This looks like a great read!



  8. Trackback: #NonficNov – NonFiction Favourites | book'd out

I want to know what you think! Your comments are appreciated.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s