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Publisher's Summary

An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl.

In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as dressed up like a boy) is a third kind of child - a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom.

The Underground Girls of Kabul is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents’ attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for 20 years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults.

At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America’s longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.

©2014 Jenny Nordberg (P)2014 Random House

Critic Reviews

"Five years of intensive reporting have yielded this gritty, poignant, and provocative collage of intimate portraits.… Nordberg conveys captivating nuance and complexity; just when you feel some kind of judgment or conclusive opinion is within reach, she deftly turns the tables, leaving us to reexamine our own prejudices and societal norms as we struggle with questions that are perhaps unanswerable." (Elle)
"[A] searing exposé… Nordberg's subtle, sympathetic reportage makes this one of the most convincing portraits of Afghan culture in print." (Publishers Weekly)
"A stunning book… Nordberg has done some staggering work in this unique, important, and compelling chronicle. Book clubs will be riveted, and will talk for hours." (Booklist)

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Important information for all

A lot of information about women's lives in Afghanistan. Important for westerners to know, especially as we venture into the cultures of nations whose history,values and mores we do not have any knowledge of.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Daryl
  • Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • 06-05-15

Not just for Women

Would you listen to The Underground Girls of Kabul again? Why?

I would. I enjoyed the post-Taliban descriptions of Afghanistan and its people. This book is so much more than describing women, but deals with gender identity, marriage, family and culture.

Any additional comments?

I have been fascinated by Afghanistan for years, and have read several books about the plight of Afghanistan's women - "Mountain to Mountain" (which I enjoyed) and "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana (much less so) among them. This book is a very journalistic account of girls who - by necessity or preference - live as boys. And yet it is so much more! It is well worth your time and credit.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Well written and educational.

I didn't expect to like this book - not my type of read. But it is very well written - it captured my attention from the start and had it until the end. The only downfall is that as a woman living in the U.S., I can't do anything to make the abuse of these women go away.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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great way to learn more sad state of Afghanistan

Find out about how Afghan women have been posing as men for centuries in order to survive. and how strong of a patriarchal society that Afghan continues to be. Perhaps they will join the 21st century someday soon

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All women should read this book

The accounts of the Afghani girls and women are frightening, but intimately inspiring. As American or Western women we are so casual about our freedoms. Seeing the plight of these women makes our status something we should value and fight fiercely to protect!

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Disappointing letdown

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

Something more engaging. I felt like I was listening to a news story. Just didn't get much interest & I thought the narrator was very monotone in delivery.

Has The Underground Girls of Kabul turned you off from other books in this genre?

Not really - just hoped this one would be more entertaining.

How could the performance have been better?

Yes - voice was boring & monotone (in my opinion)

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Underground Girls of Kabul?

LOTS of it!! I couldn't even make it thru half of the book and had enough. Sorry - I tried, but just cannot continue.

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Glad I read/listened to this book

A great book - good narrator - easy to listen to- highly recommend for better insight into the complex role of women in afganistan

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worth the read

Very well written and informative. Helps understand the culture of why the beliefs establish so much of what occurs and how hard it is to change this string held beliefs. It was interesting to learn that reputation is a more valuable currency than actual currency.

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Great journalist writing

Glad writers like this exist. Highly recommend this book to anyone looking to expand their mind

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  • Ms. Lucy
  • Fairfield, California
  • 08-29-16

very hard to believe

From the first moments I was unable to stop listening. Simply horrifying in its truth.