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


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