Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

The Breadwinner

by Deborah Ellis

The eleven-year-old heroine of this fast-paced novel is old beyond her years and highly adaptive. Having grown up amidst bombed-out buildings and land mines in Kabul, Afghanistan, Parvana knows her way around dodgy circumstances. Yet when the Taliban decree that women must give up their jobs and appear outside their homes only when dressed in a burqa and accompanied by a male, things seem intolerable. There is no more school for Parvana and her sisters. Her mother, a former journalist, seethes in the family’s one-room apartment. Then, when the police raid their home and arrest their father on the pretext of his foreign education, it is up to Parvana to earn the family’s living. Disguised as a boy, she starts working in the marketplace where she used to help her father.

Will Parvana be caught by Taliban officials? Will her father be returned? Tension is strung tightly throughout the narrative. Part of what makes this book a page-turner is its sharply realistic detail. The Ontario-based Ellis, author of Looking for X, works as a mental health counsellor in Toronto and toured refugee camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Her portrayal of trauma and people’s capacity for coping with it are compellingly authentic. Since this is primarily a book of action that centres on a set of socio-political problems, the characters do not undergo much psychological development. There isn’t room. However, I was left wishing for a book twice as long that delved into areas Ellis only touches upon. The advantage of the few loose threads is that readers will eagerly anticipate the sequel its conclusion seems to promise.