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


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