One Half from the East is a book set in Afghanistan and is centered around the unique tradition of dressing up a young girl as a boy in hope of bringing luck to the family. I have read about this concept in quite a few books by authors from this region.
Title: One Half from the East
Genre: Fiction / set in Afghanistan
Author: Nadia Hashimi
Born to Afghan parents, Nadia Hashimi was raised in New York, USA. The Pearl who broke the Shell won her critical acclaim and is one of her best books so far.
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Obayda is a 10 year old girl living in Kabul with her three sisters and parents when a bomb explosion leaves her father a cripple. From being her hero, he turns into a sullen introvert who never leaves his room nor does he talk to anyone.
Financial circumstances force them to move to the ancestral villages where life seems to be bogged down by gossip and trivial traditions of every sort. Obayda’s life takes another turn when her aunt convinces her mother to turn her into a bacha posh to turn around the family fortunes.
Obayda becomes Obayd and now has to study in the male section of the school with other boys. Petrified that they would guess her secret, she remains mute and friendless till she encounters another bacha posh. Raheem leaves Obayda awe-struck and she strives hard to now emulate him (her) and a close friendship develops between the two.
“Sometimes hiding can set you free.”
Life becomes a free paradise as a boy for her and she can’t imagine how she ever could have possibly lived like a girl. She now wants nothing more than to remain a boy forever but how to convince her parents? Her mother is now pregnant and if it’s a boy, then her days as a bacha posh are numbered.
She remembers a tale her father had told her about walking under a rainbow and making a wish, changes a person into whatever they wish for. Obayda becomes possessed in finding this rainbow and nothing can matter anymore.
But life had other things in store for her when Raheem is suddenly married off and she is left alone to deal with her situation.
Does Obayda find the rainbow or does she have to go back to being a girl once again?
Lasting impressions on me:
The concept of Bacha Posh is not new to me but Nadia Hashimi has woven quite a heart warming tale around it. She has delved into the psyche of this tradition and explored the conundrum battled by the parents when they think of doing this.
Its quite daunting to make a girl child believe that she is now a boy. Her long hair is cut off, she is dressed in male clothes and now no longer has to cover her hair. She can also play out as long as she likes and that too with the boys her age.
Obayda’s transformation is tender to watch as she first bravely explores what it means to be a boy. But then doubts grip her and her calm is shattered when she finds herself in a classroom full of boys. Its a huge mental game for such a young child to handle and Hashimi has done full justice to it.
Raheem and Obayad’s friendship and the way the two learn to deal with their situation has one cheering for them to power on. But the harsh reality of being turned back into a girl is very real and mind numbing. I loved how the author has put forth Obayd’s reasons for staying a boy now. Freedom had new meanings and new values.
I was a bit let down with the fairy tale part of the book and felt that could have been done without. Overall I would say this book would be liked by YA too as its a sweet story based on two young people.
I have rated it 3/5 stars and feel thats the best I can give it – I found the tale telling a bit simple, more suited for a younger audience.
If you liked reading this review, perhaps you would be interested in reading this one too – Forty rules of love by Elif Shafak
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