The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi is one of the most beautiful novels that I have had the privilege of reading in a very long time. But although it is beautifully written, with strong characters and captivating plot, it was not always easy to read.
I am sometimes apprehensive when starting a book that talks about difficult social issues of one culture, and presents them to another. I was worried that it would fall into the trap of the victim narrative, as so many other novels before it have. But the The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is not a story of the victimization of two Afghani women by Afghani men; it is not a story of hard circumstances and brutality—although these are some of the circumstances that propel the narrative forward. Instead, it is a story about the spiritual strength of two women who are constantly fighting for a better life despite unforgiving circumstances.
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell interweaves the stories of two women who are separated by a century but share similar destinies. As Rahima and Shekiba share similar experiences of domestic violence, heartbreak, and abandonment in an Afghani context, these themes also transcend national and cultural borders to all readers. Shilpi Somaya Gowda, author of Secret Daughter, has said that “it is a story to transport you”, and that is exactly what this novel does, showing that themes of family, freedom, hope, love and strength are universally human.
This is not a book that you can simply close and walk away from. If I had to put the book down, I would have butterflies in my stomach, worrying about Rahima or Shekiba until I was able to start reading again. My attachment to these women was the main reason (among others) that in spite of my heartbreak, I could not put it down.
I hope you find it as rewarding of a read as I did.
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