Cbr12bingo Fresh Start
Published in 2000, The Breadwinner is the first book in a four-part YA series that looks at events in Afghanistan from the point of view of an eleven-year-old girl named Parvana. This young adult series introduces readers to the war-filled history of a country that had once been more open and free but has come under the control of the Taliban. The Breadwinner has been made into an animated film and graphic novel, which I read a few Cannonballs ago. I can tell you that the original novel on which it is based provides more detail and is definitely worth your time.
When the story opens, Parvana and her father are working in Kabul’s open market area. Her father, an educator, is now barely making a living by selling the few valuable possessions the family still has and by offering his services to read and write letters for others. Her father knows several languages and his services are desirable among a population that is largely illiterate. Parvana’ s family was once fairly prosperous. Both of her parents are university educated, and the family had had a lovely home, access to school for their girls, and other amenities before the Taliban took over. Now, girls and women must be covered head to toe in a burqa while out, and they must be accompanied by a male. School for girls and employment for women are a thing of the past. Due to bombings, much of the city is in rubble, the family have had to move into a small apartment without running water, and Parvana’s father has lost one of his legs and must use a prosthetic. In addition to her parents, Parvana’s family includes her older sister Nooria (17),younger sister Maryam (5) and baby brother Ali (2). Nooria and Parvana, like many sisters, have a somewhat combative relationship; Nooria is turning into a beautiful young woman and is very smart but due to Taliban law, she is almost never able to leave the house. Thus, Parvana is usually the one to be sent to the water tap outside and to lug buckets of water upstairs.
After a long day at the market, while Parvana is at home with her family, the Taliban break in and arrest her father, beating her mother and terrorizing the family in the process. Without a man in the house, Parvana’s family is in peril. They have no idea what has happened to their father or why he was arrested or how to help him. Without a man in the house, they are stuck, with no way to get money or food. A neighbor and former teacher Mrs. Weera is of some assistance, especially when Parvana’s mother falls into a depression and is unable to get out of bed. The women decide that it is up to Parvana to go to work for the family. They cut her hair short and dress her in the clothes that had once belonged to her older brother, killed many years ago by a land mine. As a boy named “Kaseem” Parvana is now able to continue her father’s work and even go into stores to buy food, something she could not have done as a girl.
While working in the market, several things happen to Parvana and her family. First, Parvana learns that she is not the only girl masquerading as a boy to support her family. Shauzia, a girl from Parvana’s school, is doing the same, and the two girls decide to work together. Shauzia, who has been working as a tea boy, tells Parvana that they could make more money by getting trays and selling cigarettes, gum and snacks. The problem is that they are not making enough money at their current jobs to start up this new job, and so Shauzia suggests that they work as bone collectors, an unsettling job that pays very well. Later, while selling their wares in the market, they follow a crowd to the stadium, thinking that a soccer match is about to begin. What they see in the stadium will terrify and leave emotional scars on Parvana. Meanwhile, Parvana’s mother and Mrs. Weera have started up a secret women’s magazine to communicate to the world what is happening in Afghanistan. Parvana’s mother also hopes to marry Nooria to a family they know living in a city outside Taliban rule, and so she plans to travel there with the other children while Parvana stays with Mrs. Weera, hoping that their father might soon return.
At the end of this novel, much is up in the air. Yet even though plans begin to unravel, Parvana still has some hope for the future and for her family. Author Deborah Ellis, who has traveled to Afghanistan and written about the children of Kabul and war, shows the challenges facing children, girls in particular, in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Do you stay there and try to help your family in a system that will eventually grind you down? Do you try to leave, abandoning those who are counting on you? What happens to those who cannot escape, or whose families have all died? The situations described in this work of fiction are rooted in a reality that many of us cannot begin to imagine. The Breadwinner is a novel recommended by Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and is appropriate for tweens and older.