Parvana lives with her parents and siblings in Taliban-ruled Kabul. Parvana’s learned father ekes out a living as a reader-writer in their neighborhood market, and Parvana, yet too little to wear the required “chador” accompanies him to work everyday. When the Taliban takes him away one day, Parvana, her mother and her siblings are left without any means of sustenance; by Taliban rules, no woman can step out of her home unaccompanied by a male escort, and thus, even Parvana’s well-educated mother cannot go out and earn a living. There is only one thing to do to survive, and little Parvana must summon up all her courage to do it.
I’d seen this book featured on quite a few book web sites, and the premise seemed interesting so I picked it up. It is a simply told tale, but really engrossing. There aren’t any big words, or literary flourishes, just characters and events and stuff happening, and it is kind of upon you, the reader, to take in the import.
Ellis describes the day-to-day grind of living under an oppressive, cruel, narrow-minded regime, where free thought and learning is forbidden and the population must live in fear of being branded an enemy, without recourse to law and justice. Life for women is doubly hard; they are restricted to remaining inside their homes, and cannot get an education or work, thus being severely dependent on male protectors. We get a full sense of this dependence when Parvana’s father is taken away – how does a woman or her household earn a living, buy necessities or do the basic chores of living a life, when she cannot even step out on her own? We also get to see it from Parvana’s point of view, as she ruminates about the freedom of running around like boys, without having the strictures of being a “good” Muslim woman thrust upon her.
This book is targeted towards a younger audience, but I really enjoyed it. Initially I was a little skeptical of Wolf’s accented reading, but her calm, unaffected treatment of the material grew on me. The Breadwinner is a fascinating listen – highly recommended.