Shopping cart is empty.

Birchbark Blog

Things I Didn't Know

Louise Erdrich - Friday, December 12, 2014

Last August we were sorting through the advanced readers copies that had collected on the bookstore shelves. My daughter Pallas picked up The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg. I thought I'd seen the last of that book, but Pallas came back for Christmas and put that reading copy in my hands. She told me to read it, I did, and now I have to say to you. READ THIS. The Underground Girls of Kabul is subtitled: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. This book. If you read it, you will never forget Azita, Mehran, Zahra, Shukria, or Shahed -- all women who have been raised as boys in Afghanistan -- and then forced to return to being women. Nordberg explores a cultural practice that astonished me. It makes sense -- to "make" a girl at birth into a boy, for at least part of her life, is to give her a taste of what it is to be human. To have a will. Often, it is a magical practice that will supposedly prompt a woman's body to produce a male. Most hauntingly, one of these women became a "brother" to a real brother in order to protect him from possible poisoning by a previous wife in a polygamous marriage. She ate everything and drank everything before her brother. You will not stop reading this book until you find out what happens to these women -- what is happening to them now.

Karima Bennoune, a professor of international law at UC-Davis, grew up in Algeria. Her impassioned and superbly intelligent book, Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here, begins with this sentence: "Could I defend my father from the Armed Islamic Group with a paring knife?"  Bennoune's father, Mahfoud Bennoune, taught Darwinism and was a fearless critic of armed fundamentalists like the Islamic Salvation Front, who sponsored assassinations of of Bennoune's fellow professors. Her experience impelled Karima Bennoune to travel the world, at great personal risk, in order to interview moderate Muslim people, often women, who cogently and steadfastly insist on human rights in violently fundamentalist settings. She has described herself (I was lucky enough to meet her) as "the woman who makes people cry" because these stories about people who strive to maintain humanity, who die for the right to dissent, to speak freely, become educated, dance, write, paint, sing, bare their faces to the wind, their hair to the sky, and who insist that the memory of those killed in this struggle not be erased, these stories include unbearable loss. Yet the stubborn will to resist is mesmerizing -- I could not stop reading this book until page 195 (the hardcover). In the middle of this page, I had to set the book down in order to cry, too, along with the people whose existence gave me a sense of human grandeur. 

Barbara Zeller commented on 18-Dec-2014 08:24 AM
I was in Birchbark Books this past weekend, and believe it may have been Pallas who also put a book in my hands, albeit figuratively: Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life,’ by Hermione Lee. I had put it in my stack on the counter, but then put it back on the shelf at checkout on a trade for something else I wanted to purchase. Just a word from Pallas - well, you should pick that up later because it is a fantistic book - had me grabbing up the book again and adding it back to the stack. I am anxious to begin it.

I have enjoyed many books recommended by the staff at Birchbark Books. An especially powerful book that I am currently reading, and that has reached me on so many levels, is "Sacred Wilderness" by Susan Power. Finding that I need to read it slowly to understand and savor all that is there.
Post a Comment!

Canoe Family

Recent PostsRSS


Collective Denial Ojibwemowin Kenwood Gardens Education Too Loud A Solitude italy how good looking you are knowledge Ojibwe Roberto Bolano monkey in a dryer the most romantic city in the world neighborhood Chickadee Love friends Nero cafe Crushing Books Tree Houses china The Blue Sky Michael Jackson mississippi Interview The Transition Handbook Gail Caldwell Bleak House Stephen Salisbury Nemesis gardens Catalyst State Troopers book and dinner club Victory Gardens Pembina The Game of Silence show your love Tar Sands Let's Take the Long Way Home Gryphon Press adventure favorite dog Alice Munro Too Much Happiness boarding school cafe closing Beth Dooley devoted customers incarnation birchbark house series language revitalization The Wealth of Nature E.L. Doctorow Minnesota solstice, Thomas King The Round House Milkweed Press British Navy bill mckibben S.C. Gwynne More Remarkable Trees Empire of the Summer Moon joy Wendy Makoons Geniusz Canada Botany Climate Change Aubrey/Maturin fresh water plants anniversary Anton Treuer japan Philip Roth Light in August leaves and snow Patrick O'Brian post holiday Mohamed's Ghosts 2666 ireland gratitude Wastepaper Ice Master Butchers Singing Club Unnatural Disasters Gary Clement NACDI:All My Relations Czech Writer aquifer france World on the Edge Alan Weisman Emily Johnson Brown Dog coyote School Gardens Jim Harrison Peak Oil Native Arts Green Team Kabul Guthrie Theater Zombies Aza Islam Chitra Divakaruni Minneapolis health care reform Rare Books Mankato Powwow tree books city of books germany peculiar touches of green and gold trees Keepers of the Trees twins spring Population The Birchbark House Book Review Keystone XL Our Knowledge Is Not Primitive Easter Island National Book Award This Green World Bohumil Hrabal Ha Jin H2Oil The Ojibwe Vic Glover Bill Moyers Journal green Dogs Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge Birchbark Books thanks Wolf Hall graphix north dakota William Trevor Fireworks The Royal Prussian Library support Dartmouth pilgrims Anishinabe Louise Poetry post holiday reads ependent ptsd local economy customers thank you friends Afghanistan buffalo favorite book Remarkable Trees euphoria President Obama Hillary Clinton Peak Water Hilary Mantel Makoons Small Bookstores as Commons Native People Greenland The Farmer's Daughter Anishinabemowin Magers and Quinn The Porcupine Year Up Late Again Women and Trees favorite tree sweden photography Kate DiCamillo The Resilient Gardener Video