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Snapshot of life under Taliban regime.
on December 6, 2001
Life for women under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is not the stuff of which happy children's books are made. There is no happy ending here, regardless of the obstacles which are overcome, because the real-life ending has not yet come.
This book, while fiction, is the result of interviews with women who escaped from Kabul and who were living in camps in Pakistan, including one mother who disguised her daughter as a boy. The setting is true to time and place as it captures life for one family in one short period of time. (Ellis is donating the book sales to an organization dedicated to educating girls in refugee camps.)
It is a simple story, and engaging, as the reader follows the daily life of a fictional family as they struggle to survive the imprisonment of the father. His absence from the home means that they no longer have food, or communication outside the home because the female members of the family cannot go out unescorted by a male. Parvana, who is pre-adolescent, surrenders her long hair to help her family, and disguised as a boy earns a little money by selling things from their home or reading for the largely illiterate population. Thus she is able to shop for food. Her bravery is the focal point of the story and the reader is reminded of the courage and strength of children everywhere who survive against incredible odds.
Ellis has done well to write this as a story for children/young adults. While she doe not gloss over the hard parts of life in Kabul under the Taliban with executions, dismemberment, and imprisonment without a trial or a public charge neither does she dwell on them at length. Being without food or a father is hard enough for one story; living in fear adds more trauma. Everyday hardships such as the closing of school, the absence of music, and the difficulties of communication add to the realities of the story. But Ellis allows Parvana to see a Taliban soldier as human when she reads a letter for the illiterate man and watches his eyes fill with tears. To see the enemy as human is a triumph of the human spirit and gives this book its hope.