Name : Kasia balls

Text title: The Breadwinner

Author: Deborah Ellis

Text type: novel

Date finished: 18/10/18

 “The Breadwinner” is a novel set in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule. Throughout history, Afghanistan has suffered through many wars and invasions, for example, the Persians, Alexander the great, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, British, and the Soviets. now during this novel, they are suffering through a civil war. The book follows a family living in Kabul under Taliban control, trying to survive in the harsh and cruel living conditions.

The family consists of Father- a very well educated man who studied at university in England, Mother – a writer for the Kabul radio station and who also has attended university, three daughters – Parvana(11), Nooria(17), Maryam(5), and two sons – Ali(2) and the oldest child, Hossain who died in a landmine. The story is told from Parvana’s perspective, who is excited at first about not being able to go to school before she understands the harsh reality of the restrictions of her new life.

Throughout this text, three themes are shown repeatedly – Hope, Life before and after the bombing, and the difficulties faced by women. Hope and lack of hope are a constant theme. When Parvanas father is taken by four Taliban soldiers to prison because of his British education, the family is left without a man in the house. Taliban rules state that women must be accompanied by a man if they leave their house, travel on buses or go into shops.  Parvana has hope that her father will return.  A kindly stranger tells Parvana ‘People are released from prison sometimes. Don’t give up hope’.

Her father has hope that life will return back to how it used to be when he was a young boy and they hope that they will find her mother and siblings alive, after the Taliban take over Mazar. 

As a contrast, Parvana’s mother is seen to give into despair and depression.  After the father is taken away, she stops taking part in daily life, turns to the wall and doesn’t take any notice when the rest of the family start suffering from her neglect.  She picks up her life again when she has a purpose, to produce a women’s magazine and to help teach other girls in secret.  When Parvana starts to despair, she also regains hope when she has to work to buy medicine for her father.  Having a purpose, something to work towards, keeps her going, even though ‘she feels like she’s living through a nightmare’ and ‘part of her wanted to slip away from everything.’ 

There are many references to Afghanistan and Kabul before the bombing and the Taliban. Parvana’s family used to live in a large house, with a car and servants ‘with each bomb, they got poorer’, until they end up living in a single room. They have to sell their few valuables to buy food, oil and pay rent. Before Kabul was ‘a city of lights, progress and excitement.’

The change in conditions for women are especially hard.  They become prisoners in their own homes, not allowed out except in the company of a male relative. For families with no male relative to help them, this means breaking the law or starving.

 They can’t even watch the world outside their walls because they’ve been ordered to paint the windows black. They get little or no fresh air or exercise, and boredom or depression are common. 

If they can go out, the burqa stops them being able to see clearly, or from doing any useful tasks like carrying buckets of water upstairs because of the danger of tripping.  They lose their identity and individuality as all the women have to dress the same. 

 The family are living in conditions that are totally outside of their control, brought about by invasions and civil war.  Despite starting off fairly wealthy and educated, there is no protection from what is happening around them. They can’t protest against these conditions as they are likely to end up in prison or dead. This is the case in many countries, where any attempt to protest against those in power will have the same result.

Mrs Weera a family friend, says ‘These are unusual times. They call for ordinary people to do unusual things, just to get by.’  Many countries are suffering from civil war, from invasion, from famine. Unusual times happen all the time across the world, and there does not seem to be any end to conflict, whether it’s over territory, religion or ethnic background. 

When Parvana sees a Talib crying about his dead wife, she comments ‘Could they have feelings of sorrow, like other human beings?’.  People are not entirely good or evil.  Even those who carry out violence for their cause will suffer because of tragedies in their own life.

I feel that I am very lucky and fortunate to live in a country whose values include tolerance and equality – New Zealand was the first country to allow women to vote. I cannot imagine my freedom being taken away, not being allowed to learn, not being allowed to leave the house by myself.  These are freedoms that my friends and I take for granted every day.

I hope that I would be brave enough to stand and speak up if I was to witness discrimination and unfairness. I think that it is very easy to live inside a bubble like Wanaka or New Zealand and forget about all the crises that are occurring in the outside world today and the dangers that other people are facing.

 It is important to understand what is happening in the world that we are all part of.  Even though the book wasn’t written by an Afghan girl or woman, it really manages to convey the everyday difficulties and dangers, from boredom and despair to beatings and death. It is eye-opening and reveals struggles that I had no real idea about.

Respond now!