The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is a debut novel of Afghan-American writer Nadia Hashimi. In the wake of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, many more writers of the same descent have come up with similar stories where the plight of Afghanistan’s women have been a subject of sympathy for readers. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is one such story: it can be assumed that it is, at some point, influenced by The Thousand Splendid Suns of Khaled Hosseini.
The story is about girls and women of Afghanistan. Rahima and her sisters are often depressed and alone by the fact that they don’t have a brother who could have run errands for the family. On the other side, their father is an opium addict and is good for nothing. So, the need for a male chaperone in the family is their missing point. As suggested by her Aunt Shaima, Rahima has to become a bacha posh (a sort of boy to do all things until she gains maturity). She is send to school as a Rahim and there she joins the gang of boys, wears pants, passes out jokes, and plays football with them. In a sense, she saw and felt what a freedom is outside the barriers of gender discrimination.
Shaima acts as a mentor to Rahima. She tells the tale of her great grandmother Shekiba who was tortured by many and in the last was traded off for a land deal. Despite this, Shekiba fought back to claim her land back. Shekiba’s story runs parallel to Rahima, the only distinguishing fact is that Shekiba existed a century before the current tale of Rahima.
People know that Rahima is a girl playing as a boy; thus taking the advantage of the situation many people begin inciting her father against her. Also, Abdul Khaliq – a warlord has an eye on her. Rahima’s father is indebted to him. Thus, upon gaining her maturity at the age of thirteen, Rahima is forcibly married to the elderly man Abdul Khaliq who already has three wives. This twist of fate is heartbreaking for Rahima as she was a free bird after being nominated as bacha posh. Well, from now onwards a despicable life has in store for her. She hates her and what she is going to do to get away from this fills the rest of the narration.
The tale of two women who struggled for life though apart by century is the most remarkable aspect of this book. Overall, the book is strong enough to bring readers on the brink of tears.