While browsing some of my favorite blogs, I happened upon a great recommendation at Shelf Elf for a children’s companion book to A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (see my review here). Shelf Elf says, “While mom and dad are reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, the kids should try Deborah Ellis’s novel, The Breadwinner, [it's] as close to Hosseini’s novel as you could get, in a form appropriate and accessible to children. Imagine the conversations that might be had around the dinner table…” Having just read A Thousand Splendid Suns, I was interested in this children’s book.
In The Breadwinner, eleven year old Parvana lives with her parents and siblings in a one room bombed-out apartment building in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city. They didn’t always live there, they used to have a nice home with nice things, and both of her parents were educated with well paying jobs. But now that the Taliban have taken control of the country all of that has changed. Women are no longer allowed to hold jobs, leave the house without being in the company of a man, no part of their body must be seen, they must never be heard, must not laugh, and girls are no longer allowed to attend school. You know the story.
Parvana’s mother and siblings haven’t left their one room apartment for a year and a half. Parvana, still young, accompanies her crippled father to the market each day where they slowly sell off all of their possessions and read and write letters for the illiterate in order to make money. The family is “riding out” the war when Taliban soldiers throw Paravna’s father in prison for having a foreign education. With his whereabouts uncertain, Parvana must now step up and take care of her family as the sole provider. She cuts her hair, dresses as a boy and each day carefully goes out to earn money anyway she can; reading letters, digging up bones at the cemetery, or selling cigarettes off a tray.
With the prospect of marriage for her older sister, everyone in her family except Parvana (how does one explain changing into a boy to extended family members?) travels to another unoccupied town, leaving Parvana with Mrs. Weera who has taken up residency in the apartment. Surprisingly, her father comes home, but when they find out that her departed family is in danger they decide to leave and go find them.
And then the story ends. Just like that. I wanted to know what happened. Did they find them? Was everybody okay? Did they get caught? I wish I knew with certainty the rest of these fictitious characters lives. Perhaps we are not meant to know. Edited to add: Ha! Thanks to some extra savvy readers, this is a trilogy! I’ve since read and reviewed Mud City and Parvana’s Journey by Deborah Ellis.
The following video is similar to Parvana’s experience in providing for her family.
The Breadwinner is a great read for children to teach them about Afghanistan, the wars, and the Taliban, and let’s not forget, for adults like me. Thanks Shelf Elf for a great recommendation!
Links of interest: More book blogger reviews. Maw Books reviews of Mud City and Parvana’s Journey by Deborah Ellis.
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction, approx ages 9-12.
Publisher: Groundwood Books. November 10, 2001.
Paperback, 170 pages. ISBN 0888994168
Source copy: Library
The Breadwinner is available from your favorite independent bookstore, Powell’s, and Amazon.