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. 

Canoe Family

Recent PostsRSS


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