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

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  10,916 ratings  ·  1,503 reviews
An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl.

In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as "dressed up like a boy") is a third
Hardcover, 350 pages
Published September 16th 2014 by Crown Publishing Group (NY) (first published 2014)
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Kayla I honestly believe that high school students should not be censored from reading books of any kind (maybe minus pornography because that's illegal) bu…moreI honestly believe that high school students should not be censored from reading books of any kind (maybe minus pornography because that's illegal) but students need to have a better understanding of the world that they live in. What better way to do that than to allow those students to read about it.(less)

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Petra X is feeling very sad
Karl Marx said, "[To] abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real happiness; the demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs that needs illusions."

I'm not a communist but I 100% agree with that. But why on earth would men in Afghanistan give up the illusion that women are a lower form of human life when they benefit so much? Still less why would they give up religion when they say their repressio
Apr 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookclub-reads
An amazing book club discussion book that had our group deep in discussion for 2 hours in which all the members contributed to one of the most passionate discussions our group has ever held.
I kept thinking as we all sat around the table discussing Afghan culture and Western culture. What if 12 Afghanistan ladies sat around a table discussing western culture what their thoughts would be on our lives and traditions.

I had actually rated this book 3 stars until we had our discussion and upped the ra
J.L.   Sutton
Feb 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
“A great many people in this world would be willing to throw out their gender in a second if it could be traded for freedom.”

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Jenny Nordberg's The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan is an interesting exploration of what might seem like an unexpected form of resistance. Nordberg's book chronicles her investigation into bacha posh (girls being raised as boys), why it is practiced and how it is viewed. Nordberg's account bogs down in a few places, but overal
Kevin Shepherd
"Bacha posh: a hidden Afghan custom of resistance. Meaning 'dressed up like a boy' in Dari, bacha posh are girls raised and presented to the world as boys."

Having at least one son is mandatory for a respectable Afghan wife. Failing to produce a male child is shameful. A woman who has only daughters or, even worse, no children at all, is a disgrace to her entire family. It matters not that it is, in fact, the father's contribution that actually determines the sex of the child. In a country where
Jun 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The story is basically that of survival of a girl in Afghanistan - seemingly one of the worst places to be born a woman.

Afghanistan is a country where the birth of a son is heralded as one of good luck and where the birth of a daughter is one of misfortune. The daughter would not be a problem if there are sons but if it is only a family of girls it is not just the child that is unlucky, the mother is considered unfortunate and a disgrace and even the husband is pitied. In this story, even very
Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

“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 som
Tiffany Wacaser
Dec 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
A few years ago, I sat in a Swedish classroom with other foreigners all studying Swedish. We came from a variety of backgrounds and were given an assignment to give a presentation in Swedish about a famous person from our home country. One young woman, who often brought her small baby to class (in those fantastic Swedish prams that have never become popular in the United States), began her presentation about her home country, Afghanistan. As she explained to the class, illiteracy was incredibly ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Like many New York Times readers, I read Nordberg’s first article on girls disguised as boys in Afghanistan and was fascinated. It’s a topic that deserved a book, and fortunately Nordberg went deeper and wrote one.

This book relates many stories of girls disguised as boys, and women disguised as men. Sometimes changing a girl to a boy is done to raise the family’s social standing, as both fathers and mothers are looked down upon for not producing sons. Sometimes it’s done for practical reasons: A
Una Tiers
Jan 05, 2015 rated it liked it
The oppression of women is worse than I understood. The beliefs described in this book are not easy to understand. But the author suggests the same beliefs prevail in men and women.
While the book was important to understand different beliefs and ways to live, the author lost much of the attention with repetition.
Dec 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Extraordinary journalism tumbles out of Afghanistan at a staggering pace. From Steve Coll's Ghost Wars and Ahmed Rashid's Descent into Chaos to Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Little America and Jake Tapper's The Outpost, the wars and suffocating corruption afflicting this crossroad's troubled people have been exhaustively chronicled. These singular correspondents rarely excavate past the past the front rooms of Afghan society, however, because their stories come and go with would-be pacifiers and libera ...more
Aug 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Diane, Marisa, Kate, Matt, Cathy, Laura, Susan,Jan F.
Recommended to Doreen by: Won it on Goodreads!!!
I won this book from a Goodreads Giveaway! What an amazing, revealing, educational piece of work!! Afghanistan's history, culture and traditions are explained in detail. Yes, we know that women are their husbands' property. We know that there are neither rights nor freedoms for women in this middle eastern country. This book goes FAR BEYOND what the average Westerner thinks or believes about Afghanistan.

The immediate focus of this book is the practice of bacha posh; allowing daughters to live
Sadie Forsythe
I can read a 300 page novel in a day but it took me a really long time to read this book, I mean months. The reason is that I could only take it in small doses. It's dry. It's depressing and its content takes digesting.

I'm really interested in the lives of woman in Afghanistan (or any culture so far removed from my own). My first degree was in anthropology and the reason was that the way people live fascinates me. This isn't the first time I've tried to get a handle on the Afghani culture and
Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. ARC did not have pictures.

I requested this book because I read Nordberg’s original piece for the New York Times.

In certain parts of the world, Afghanistan only being one, there is a strong emphasis put on the importance of sons. A woman’s only duty is to give birth to sons, or mostly sons. Women in these cultures are usually seen as less important, less valuable. However, there is a tradition, as Nordberg discovered, of taking a girl and transforming her
This is a nonfiction account of the struggle for gender parity in Afghanistan. Swedish Journalist meets Azita, an elite-educated daughter of a Kabul University professor. In 1995, shortly after she’d reached puberty, as war was imminent, her family fled to the countryside. It was not long thereafter that her father, who had always promised her that her talents would be put to good use, married her off to her illiterate first cousin, a farmer. Although her mother opposed this arrangement she apol ...more
They dress like boys, act like boys and have the same rights as boys. A ”bacha posh” is a girl in Afghanistan that from an early age are brought up as a boy, and thereby changes her gender identity.

The parents have many reasons for this. There's pressure to have sons, to give their daughters another perspective and self-confidence, and superstition - if a girl is dressed like a boy, the next baby will be a son. Regardless of the reason, these girls get more liberty. Until puberty.

Azita, a politi
When patriarchy is a norm and a society becomes dysfunctional where being a woman is considered a curse, there could be a form of adaptation and (possibly later) resistance lurking in the shadows. Bacha posh is one of them. The idea of crossdressing, taking a gender role of a man, is seen as a solution, no matter how temporary it is. This construct predates Islam, beginning at least from the Sassanid Empire era, and is still practiced today.

The book was quite a revelation to me - I've never rea
Johanna Hammarström
This book awoke so many feelings, it made me so angry, sad and irritated. A feeling of hopelessness fills me trough the read - women's situation in Afghanistan is literally a nightmare which is caused by other peoples need for power and money.

Reading this book the standpoint is that change has to come from within the people. Outside help seems to work sometimes but in all seems to just make things worse.

But I do think books like this are so important. To spread the stories of actual people livin
Aug 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arcs, first-reads, 5-stars
I had never heard of bacha posh until a few months ago, and all I knew at that point was that a woman named Jenny Nordberg had written a book about them, which was available through the First Reads program, as well as an article for The New York Times back in 2010. Based on the First Reads blurb, I knew that the term had something to do with women and Afghanistan, so I assumed that bacha posh were an all-female brigade of resistance fighters who were subverting the Taliban in some way. Perhaps t ...more
Oct 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
This is a splendid, well-written piece of investigative journalism. The book had me literally shaking with anger as I read. The author, who is Swedish, embedded herself in Afghanistan for a number of years, getting to know some women there very well. She uncovered the surprising practice of parents choosing to present a daughter as a son until she reaches puberty. Why would they do this? The answers are complex and the author uses real people to illustrate her conclusions. In most cases, the fam ...more
Nicole Overmoyer
We in America and the western world have a tendency to think we know everything. We watch the news and read a few articles and consider ourselves experts in the way things work in the parts of the world most different from ours - the Muslim world, since 2001. This is very short-sighted of us.

Jenny Nordberg's "The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan" is eye-opening in the extreme and should be read by anyone who has the slightest inclination to truly unders
Jenny Boyce
May 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
While this is an incredibly powerful book about the lives of women in Afghanistan, The Underground Girls of Kabul is so much more than that. It's a story of defiance, resilience, and hope in a country that has been deemed "the worst place to be a woman".

Nordberg tells the stories of bacha posh, women of Afghanistan who live their lives as men instead of women. I had no idea, prior to reading this book, that such even existed. This book not only explains the lives of bacha posh but also dives eve
Elizabeth Wig
Sep 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: z-2015, nonfiction
An interesting look at gender issues and ways they are being fought in what the UN calls the world's worst country to be a woman. Boys are the only valued members of the families, and girls are expected to work towards the happiness of the men, stay in their homes, and bear sons. The problems with the aid pouring into the country are also discussed - how people sell the supposed relief food they receive for profit, and how the aid money pouring into the country largely isn't reaching its intende ...more
In Afghanistan, there are girls who are raised as boys in order to bring their families prestige and luck. These girls are called bacha posh. Nordberg’s journalistic account of this phenomenon is straightforward and very informative. While I do have a problem with her logic in some cases, I commend Nordberg for bringing this issue to light.

Bacha posh is both historical and present-day rejection of patriarchy by those who refuse to accept the ruling order for themselves or their daughters.

Sharman Russell
Jul 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
When I grow up, I want to be an investigative journalist. It's hard not to admire the work of this author, spending time in a difficult place like Afghanistan and discovering a cultural practice (young girls passing for boys) that no other Westerner seems to have noticed. Nordberg does a good job setting up the historical and social context for this practice and telling the stories of these Afghan women and girls. Certainly this confirms how much gender is culturally constructed. And that's kind ...more
Dec 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Nordberg explores the phenomenon of Afghan girls assuming a male identity. This is primarily seen in prepubescent girls in families without sons. In poorer families, it enables the girl to help earn an income for the family. In more affluent families, it may be done to avoid the stigma of not having a son or to allow the girl more freedom. In rare incidences, the girl continues to function with a male identity into adulthood. Nordberg also discusses cultural attitudes to gender and social restri ...more
Tejas Janet
Sep 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In contemporary Afghanistan, parents sometimes opt to dress a daughter as a boy and present him as a son. This practice, known as "bacha posh," is found in a variety of countries in different time frames though at present it seems most common in the middle eastern context due to existing cultural strictures on gender roles. There are various reasons for this practice relating primarily to the pressure from society to have sons. An honorary son can perform tasks that a daughter is barred from doi ...more
Aug 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
You learn about the importance of having a male in the household. It’s so important that it is not uncommon for the parents to turn a female child into a male until they hit puberty!!!! Very interesting read.
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Norberg is an excellent piece of investigative journalism. Ms. Nordberg based her book on interviews. She became aware of the not much talked about custom of girls dressing as boys. This is a country where men have all the privileges and rights, women are nothing.

Women very rarely divorce their husbands because the children are the husband’s “property”. Why does this happen? After reading this book, you can only con
Jan 29, 2015 rated it did not like it
This is a book in search of a good editor. It could have been told in far fewer words! It got tiresome after about 150 pages.
Nicole P
I had read Jenny Nordberg's NY Times articles on this subject first and have been meaning to get to this book. It was a fantastic read. Just like the articles, Jenny thoroughly did her research and investigation and brings to light a topic/custom that is not well-known around the world. I found the book to be riveting, informative and interesting. This book deals with gender identity issues in a interesting and griping way. ...more
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Jenny Nordberg is a New York-based foreign correspondent and a columnist for Swedish national newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

In 2010, she broke the story of "bacha posh" - how girls grow up disguised as boys in gender-segregated Afghanistan. The Page One story was published in The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, and Nordberg's original research in the piece was used for follow-up

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