THE UNDERGROUND GIRLS OF KABUL
Join us for an evening of discussion with
New York-based foreign correspondent
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
6 p.m. | Reception
6:30 p.m. | Presentation
7:15 p.m. | Book Signing
4 Columbus Circle (58th Street and Eighth Avenue)
New York, NY
UNA Members: FREE
UNA Student Members: FREE
Guests and Non-Members: $15
"What is the difference between men and women? In Afghanistan, it's freedom."
Investigative reporter Jenny Nordberg uncovers a secret in Afghanistan that asks what it means to be female and to be free. It's a defiant piece of women's history that no one has gone looking for. Until now.
In Afghanistan, where society is ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as a failure.
A bacha posh (literally "dressed up like a boy" in Dari) is a third kind of child — a girl who will be raised as a boy and presented as a son to the world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke this story for The New York Times, constructs a dramatic account of Afghan women and girls clandestinely living on the other side of the gender divide that grants half its population almost no rights and little freedom.
Set against the violent backdrop of America's longest war, The Underground Girls of Kabul follows Afghan girls who live disguised as boys through childhood and puberty, only to be expected by adult age to transform into subordinate wives and mothers. But the battle of nature versus nurture lingers, and some bacha posh will refuse to rescind their male prerogatives in what the UN calls the world's most dangerous country to be a woman.
The book is anchored by vivid female characters who bring this ancient phenomenon to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian whose youngest daughter is chosen to pose as her only son; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and resists her parents' attempts to turn her into a woman; Shukria, who was forced to marry and have three children after living for twenty years as a man; and Shahed, an Afghan special forces soldier, still in disguise as an adult man.
Offering a new and original story about Afghanistan and its women, The Underground Girls of Kabul investigates the hidden practice of bacha posh that has affected generations, while examining its parallels to our own history. The act of reaching for more freedom by impersonating a man is one that can be recognized by women everywhere.
JENNY NORDBERG is a New York-based foreign correspondent and a columnist for Swedish national newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. She is also the founder and editor of BachaPosh.com.
In 2010, she broke the story of "bacha posh" — how girls grow up disguised as boys in gender-segregated Afghanistan. The Page One story was published in The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, and Nordberg's original research in the piece was used for follow-up stories around the world, as well as opinion pieces and fictional tales.
Today, The Underground Girls of Kabul is the only original non-fiction work on the practice of bacha posh, going deep into issues of gender and culture in Afghanistan. Jenny Nordberg is to date the only researcher in the world who has explored the practice of bacha posh in a systematic and comprehensive manner.
Together with The Times' investigative unit, Nordberg previously worked on projects such as an examination of the American freight railroad system; a series that won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, and U.S. efforts at exporting democracy to Haiti.
She has also produced and written several documentaries for American television, about Iraqi refugees, Pakistan's nuclear proliferation and the impact of the global financial crisis in Europe.
In Sweden, Nordberg was a member of the first investigative team at Swedish Broadcasting's national radio division, where she supervised projects on terrorism and politics. Nordberg has won awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors, The Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and Guldspaden, Sweden's premier investigative journalism award.
Jenny Nordberg holds a B.A. in Law and Journalism from Stockholm University, and an M.A. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
Praise from the Reviews
"[A] searing expose… Nordberg's subtle, sympathetic reportage makes this one of the most convincing portraits of Afghan culture in print." Publisher's Weekly [starred]
"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 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 [starred]
"As affecting as the stories of these women are, Nordberg's conclusion—that women's rights are essential to "building peaceful civilizations"—is the most powerful message of this compelling book. An intelligent and timely exploration into contemporary Afghanistan." Kirkus Reviews
"Jenny Nordberg has given us a fascinating look into a hidden phenomenon of extreme patriarchal societies: a form of gender-bending far riskier and more rewarding than Western academia's trendy, abstract gender categories. Nordberg's reporting is thorough and sensitive, her writing vivid and insightful. You will not forget this book; it will haunt you." Robin Morgan, author and founder of Ms. magazine
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