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Publisher's Summary

An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom in Afghanistan 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)

What listeners say about The Underground Girls of Kabul

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Everyone should read this book to understand the world and get perspectives straight.

I loved this book as I learned so much and realized that the women In Afghanistan are doing what they can to survive not just the women, the men too. I look at the world better after reading this book. It is not as easy to judge when you have knowledge. Thank you for this book Jenny. I am proud to be a Swede!

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Eye-opening and significant on many levels

A very enlightening account of the necessities of life for women in a region of the world where patriarchy, though a universal problem, is perhaps more acutely problematic. The stories are presented in very personal vignettes and threads of gender politics in Afghanistan. The author does a generally good job at avoiding the trap of appearing as the white western heroine, though she does seem at times to revel in the awe, and sometimes disbelief, from the younger Afghan girls, regarding her relative freedom. But there is not much judgment on the author's part, at least until the epilogue, as she seems to recognize the underlying truths addressed in this society, and the hypocrisy and blindness of some western ideas about gender. Listening, I started to recognize how frivolous some arguments, by all parties in Western societies, regarding gender and gender dysphoria, have become in contrast to the existential threats faced by these families, and the girls in particular. It is genuinely a thought provoking book.

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The Underground Girls of Kabul

This has been one of the most powerful and and enlightening books I have listened to listen to in a long time. I feel it was Excellently written and wonderfully read. I learned that many of my ideas about the United States's presence in Afghanistan and the education and advancement of women has been sadly, way off the mark. I am filled with admiration and awe of the courage and determination of all the women there, especially those who have dared to step out, speak out and stand bravely, in spite of incredible opposition for how they feel, what their beliefs are and how they want to spend their lives. I have been given a new area of thinking about sex and gender roles to study. I believe everyone, especially women who live in a free country should listen to this book immediately. It will make you want To hug every woman in Afghanistan, Emma and it will break your heart in lieu of the present re- occupation of that country.
I guarantee you will be riveted.

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The underground girls of Kabul

Wow, what a heartwrenching eye opener! I always knew that I am blessed beyond words for being born in America and to Christian parents that taught me the love of Jesus Christ. I pray that the hearts of the world that have not recieved him will open and maybe then, the nations and people might have peace. I pray for all, God bless!

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riveting

I couldn't stop listening to this book! It captures a fascinating snapshot into the lives and culture of both the men and women of Afganistan. I highly recommend this book!

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Informative

Women are still having to adapt just to survive. We will never give up. Ask yourself after reading this what would you do to survive?

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A stunning must-read book

Fascinating research into the role of women in Afghan society. Very well written. For anyone interested in the status of women and children in a patriarchal society, this is a great read. It is also an interesting exploration of the evolution of human civilization.