Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Breadwinner Trilogy ~ by Deborah Ellis

The Breadwinner (2001) is the first book in Deborah Ellis's trilogy about Afghanistan, which also includes Parvana's Journey (2002) and Mud City (2003).  I've been looking for books that show girls doing brave and exciting things, and the little girls in these three books are amazing.  They must pretend to be boys in order to make a living for their families -- because girls and women were forbidden by the Taliban to be out of their homes without a man or a boy to chaperone them.

The Breadwinner was exciting to read because I had never thought about what a family would do if there were no men or boys in it.  Parvana's brother was out of the picture before the story begins, and her father was taken away when men came to their house.  Eleven-year-old Parvana had accompanied her father when he went out to sell items on the streets, and her sister is too old to pose as a boy.  It feels really strange to Parvana to have her hair cut short and to be wearing her brother's old clothes, but she finds she is able to spread out her wares on a blanket, make sales, and buy food for the family.
"A few days later, Parvana was sitting watching the tea boys run back and forth between the customers and the tea shop.  One of the boys almost collided with a donkey.  Parvana was laughing and looking the other way when a tea boy tripped on something near her and spilled a tray of empty tea cups all over her blanket.  The boy sprawled in the dust in front of Parvana.  She helped him gather the cups that had rolled away.  She handed him the tray and saw his face for the first time.  She let out a gasp and slapped a hand across her face.  The tea boy was a girl from her class" (p. 94).
So their family wasn't the only one in need of a "boy" to go out and work.

Parvana's Journey, the second in the trilogy, continues the story, with Parvana searching for her missing family.  Other children, injured and orphaned, join with her as they all try to find food and avoid land mines.  She, still posing as a boy, takes care of a baby and leads the other children.  And all the while she is trying to make sense of her world.
"Parvana had given up trying to understand why the Taliban hated women.  There were other things to think about" (p. 12).
I don't know why they hate women, either, but these books clearly show how miserable the Taliban made life for the Afghan people.  Especially the children.

Mud City, the third book, is seen through the eyes of Shauzia, rather than Parvana.  Shauzia was the "tea boy" Parvana knew from school, the one who tripped in that quote above.  Shauzia's dream is to somehow get out of Afghanistan and go to France.  She has a folded picture of France that seems to her like the most wonderful place in the world.  When I think of the life she led as she tried to survive in Afghanistan, I can certainly see why any other place would see better.  France even had green fields!  Nothing was easy for the children described in these YA (young adult) books, as shown in this example from pages 45-46).
The day after that, her sandals fell apart. ... "How much for a pair of sandals," she asked.

The pedlar named a price.  It was more than Shauzia had in her pocket.

"I don't have enough."  She felt like crying.  Her bare feet burned.  She had to hop from one foot to the other.

The pedlar watched her for a moment, then rummaged in the bottom of his cart.  Finally he handed her several sandals that did not match.

"Try these," he said.  Shauzia tried them on until she found a sandal to fit each foot.  One was brown, and one was green.

"Why do you have all these sandals that don't match?" she asked.

"People with one leg need sandals, too," he replied.
The trilogy came out in a single volume in September 2009. Synopsis:  "Deborah Ellis’ trilogy has been a phenomenal success, both critically and commercially. Now young readers can experience this entire epic story in one volume. The Breadwinner is set in Afghanistan, where 11-year-old Parvana lives with her family in a bombed-out apartment building in Kabul. When her father is arrested for the crime of having a foreign education, the family is left with no money or resources. Forbidden to earn money as a girl, Parvana must transform herself into a boy and become the breadwinner. In Parvana's Journey, her father has died and the family has scattered. Parvana, now 13 years old, is determined to find them. Again masquerading as a boy, she joins a group of wandering children, all refugees from war, who exist mainly on courage. In Mud City, the focus shifts to 14-year-old Shauzia, who lives in the Widows' Compound in Pakistan and dreams of escaping to a new life in France. Deborah Ellis uses simple, compelling language, memorable characters, and a wealth of imaginative detail in this wrenching look at the human cost of war that is also a surprisingly hopeful story of survival."

I highly recommend these books, though I enjoyed the first one the most, probably because the family had to figure out a way to get food, even with no man in their household. All get my best ratings, however: The Breadwinner, 10 of 10; Parvana's Journey, 9 of 10; and Mud City, 9 of 10.


Helen's Book Blog said...

I have Breadwinner on my shelves but I don't think I've ever read it. I certainly didn't know there were books 2 and 3. Thank you!

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Here's an excellent review by 10-year-old Sophia:

Helen's Book Blog said...

I really liked your review and I look forward to reading the next books in the series. I am going to have my mom get books 2 and 3 (from Sophia)

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Thank you, Sophia. I hope you enjoy the next two books as much as the first.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I wrote about the book again, here: