When Parvana’s gentle father is suddenly beaten without cause and locked away for being an educated citizen, her family is left without a means to support themselves. Under Taliban rule, women are forbidden in Kabul to leave the house unless fully covered and accompanied by a male family member. The only male at home now is Parvana’s toddler brother, hardly a likely escort. Meanwhile, their bereft mother – a former radio journalist – cannot get out of bed. Her teenage older sister is a perfect target for kidnapping.
At 11, Parvana is still young enough to dress in her late older brother’s leftover clothing, even if her resemblance to Hossain makes her mother weep. Masquerading as a boy, Parvana can leave the family’s stifling one-room apartment to go to the market, take over her father’s job as a letter-reader-and-writer-for hire, to buy food, and feed her family. As “Kaseem,” she becomes the family’s breadwinner.
In spite of her new relative freedom, Parvana – nor her family – is hardly safe, and they must struggle daily to survive, holding on to the hope of a family reunion someday. The Breadwinner is the first of a trilogy that continues in Parvana’s Journey and Mud City – all three chronicle the extreme choices Parvana and her family are forced to make amidst the cruel Taliban control of their war-torn country.
Award-winning Deborah Ellis – one of Canada’s most popular, bestselling children’s authors – is a longtime anti-war activist who traveled to Afghan refugee camps in the late 1990s and “heard many stories like Parvana’s.” Honoring those experiences of struggle, Ellis is donating all royalties from The Breadwinner to Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan – even more reason to invest in her books!
Ellis strongly reminds readers in her ending “Author’s Note” that in spite of the Taliban’s initial ousting in 2001 from Afghanistan, “the future of Afghanistan’s women and girls remains uncertain.” A full decade later, that future remains under threat. In the words of the looming Talib soldier, toting a rifle to complete his menacing shadow, “‘Read this.'”
Readers: Middle Grade
Published: 2001 (United States)