Shopping cart is empty.

Birchbark Blog

Things I Didn't Know

Louise Erdrich - Friday, December 12, 2014

Last August we were sorting through the advanced readers copies that had collected on the bookstore shelves. My daughter Pallas picked up The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg. I thought I'd seen the last of that book, but Pallas came back for Christmas and put that reading copy in my hands. She told me to read it, I did, and now I have to say to you. READ THIS. The Underground Girls of Kabul is subtitled: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. This book. If you read it, you will never forget Azita, Mehran, Zahra, Shukria, or Shahed -- all women who have been raised as boys in Afghanistan -- and then forced to return to being women. Nordberg explores a cultural practice that astonished me. It makes sense -- to "make" a girl at birth into a boy, for at least part of her life, is to give her a taste of what it is to be human. To have a will. Often, it is a magical practice that will supposedly prompt a woman's body to produce a male. Most hauntingly, one of these women became a "brother" to a real brother in order to protect him from possible poisoning by a previous wife in a polygamous marriage. She ate everything and drank everything before her brother. You will not stop reading this book until you find out what happens to these women -- what is happening to them now.

Karima Bennoune, a professor of international law at UC-Davis, grew up in Algeria. Her impassioned and superbly intelligent book, Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here, begins with this sentence: "Could I defend my father from the Armed Islamic Group with a paring knife?"  Bennoune's father, Mahfoud Bennoune, taught Darwinism and was a fearless critic of armed fundamentalists like the Islamic Salvation Front, who sponsored assassinations of of Bennoune's fellow professors. Her experience impelled Karima Bennoune to travel the world, at great personal risk, in order to interview moderate Muslim people, often women, who cogently and steadfastly insist on human rights in violently fundamentalist settings. She has described herself (I was lucky enough to meet her) as "the woman who makes people cry" because these stories about people who strive to maintain humanity, who die for the right to dissent, to speak freely, become educated, dance, write, paint, sing, bare their faces to the wind, their hair to the sky, and who insist that the memory of those killed in this struggle not be erased, these stories include unbearable loss. Yet the stubborn will to resist is mesmerizing -- I could not stop reading this book until page 195 (the hardcover). In the middle of this page, I had to set the book down in order to cry, too, along with the people whose existence gave me a sense of human grandeur. 

Barbara Zeller commented on 18-Dec-2014 08:24 AM
I was in Birchbark Books this past weekend, and believe it may have been Pallas who also put a book in my hands, albeit figuratively: Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life,’ by Hermione Lee. I had put it in my stack on the counter, but then put it back on the shelf at checkout on a trade for something else I wanted to purchase. Just a word from Pallas - well, you should pick that up later because it is a fantistic book - had me grabbing up the book again and adding it back to the stack. I am anxious to begin it.

I have enjoyed many books recommended by the staff at Birchbark Books. An especially powerful book that I am currently reading, and that has reached me on so many levels, is "Sacred Wilderness" by Susan Power. Finding that I need to read it slowly to understand and savor all that is there.
Post a Comment!

Canoe Family

Recent PostsRSS


Too Loud A Solitude Gryphon Press customers peculiar touches of green and gold Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge Philip Roth Remarkable Trees germany The Porcupine Year Book Review Fireworks The Resilient Gardener france Dogs Gail Caldwell Beth Dooley Empire of the Summer Moon Michael Jackson city of books Let's Take the Long Way Home Magers and Quinn plants Keystone XL Milkweed Press S.C. Gwynne Love post holiday Greenland Minnesota Peak Oil health care reform gratitude bill mckibben Vic Glover Native Arts Anton Treuer Alice Munro Mankato Powwow coyote The Wealth of Nature neighborhood anniversary north dakota Education show your love Kate DiCamillo Our Knowledge Is Not Primitive the most romantic city in the world book and dinner club Wolf Hall Ha Jin Easter Island Makoons how good looking you are NACDI:All My Relations Rare Books Peak Water Ojibwemowin Victory Gardens The Ojibwe Women and Trees Master Butchers Singing Club The Birchbark House Native People This Green World monkey in a dryer Poetry Hillary Clinton Birchbark Books Ice Aza State Troopers friends Mohamed's Ghosts boarding school William Trevor euphoria 2666 birchbark house series Nemesis Guthrie Theater The Blue Sky Anishinabe Gary Clement Nero Chickadee favorite dog Keepers of the Trees photography Green Team Video solstice, Thomas King Brown Dog fresh water Louise mississippi spring The Round House More Remarkable Trees cafe closing favorite book Up Late Again Tree Houses china Bohumil Hrabal School Gardens green aquifer thank you friends Catalyst Collective Denial The Game of Silence Light in August ireland Kenwood Gardens Anishinabemowin leaves and snow devoted customers Climate Change twins Minneapolis The Transition Handbook Wendy Makoons Geniusz Roberto Bolano Tar Sands Emily Johnson gardens language revitalization pilgrims joy Afghanistan Too Much Happiness cafe adventure Hilary Mantel National Book Award ptsd buffalo Ojibwe E.L. Doctorow post holiday reads ependent Small Bookstores as Commons thanks World on the Edge Unnatural Disasters italy The Farmer's Daughter Jim Harrison support Zombies local economy Pembina sweden Dartmouth knowledge The Royal Prussian Library President Obama Aubrey/Maturin graphix Chitra Divakaruni japan Wastepaper Botany British Navy Czech Writer Bill Moyers Journal Interview favorite tree Patrick O'Brian tree books H2Oil Islam trees Population incarnation Kabul Stephen Salisbury Crushing Books Alan Weisman Bleak House Canada