Between 1996-2001, the Taliban who are known as soldiers or terrorists took control over Afghanistan and oppresion began. These Islamic soldiers ensured that women had no rights. Women and young girls were unable to educate themselves, could not work, and could not be escorted without male supervision. In addition, women were forced to wear a burqa which covered their entire head and body, with only a small opening for their eyes. On September 11, 2001, our nation changed that morning when four hijackers attacked us by taking control over airplanes and crashing it into the infamous Twin Towers, Pennsylvania, as well as the Pentagon. As a result, our nation was never the same and it led this country to declare war on the Taliban and other terrorists who were associated with that regime. Today, the Taliban does not exist and in Afghanistan, however danger still remains. Schools are bombed and there are death threats made to teachers and young girls are even attacked for going to school.
The text Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter is about a young girl named Nasreen whose life changed when the “soldiers” or Taliban took over Afghanistan. Before the Taliban took over, art, music, education, and equality existed for both genders. When the Taliban took over, a dark cloud reigned over the nation. As a result, young girls like Nasreem were unable to leave the home unless they were escorted by a male. In addition,Nasreen witnessed her father being taken away from her home and he was held as a hostage. When her father did not return, Nasreen’s mother went out looking for him even though women were forbidden to walk the streets of Afghanistan. However, her mother did not return. As a result, Nasreen became depressed and did not speak. She waited patiently for her parents to return but they never did. She felt all alone and her grandmother could not watch her suffer anymore. Her grandmother was dedicated to ensure that her grandchild would receive an education, despite any consequences that might arise. The grandmother had heard of a secret school and took the risk of hiding in the secret school. In the secret school, Nasreem met other young girls and women who wanted to discover new things and learn about the world. One day, the soldiers knocked on the gates of the secret school to find out what was hiding behind doors. When he walked in, the young girls pretended they were reading the Koran. Eventually, Nasreem spoke again and made a new friend, Mina. She told Mina how she witnessed her parents being taken away from their home and how the soldiers were taking over the streets. Eventually, Nasreen made progress and she learned how to read, write, to add, as well as to subtract. Despite all the hardships that Nasreen witnessed, she had faith and she was able to see a blue sky over the dark clouds that the Taliban had ignited.
This text is part of the narrative non-fiction genre as Nasreen’s grandmother is telling the story. She recalls all the details of what her grandaughter witnessed and overcame a difficult time. Texts that are apart of this genre are , memoirs, autobiographies, or personal stories. Nasreem shares intimate details of her grandaughter’s struggle with witnessing how the Taliban took her parents away. The texts uses metaphors including “dark clouds” to represent all the difficulties that were arising in the country due to the soldiers. The author states, “I heard whispers about a school-a secret school for girls-behind a gate in a nearby lane. I wanted Nasreen to attend this secret school. I wanted her to learn about the world, as I had. I wanted her to speak again.” One can note that Nasreen’s grandmother was determined to give her grandchild a better life. Before the Taliban took over, young girls were able to go to school and learn new subjects. They were able to do art and play music. Since Nasreen was depressed witnessing her parents being taken away by the soldier, her grandmother knew that Nasreen’s mother would want her to have a better life and not suffer. In the text, readers witness how the grandmother tells how she overcame obstacles like disguising herself to represent someone else so she wouldn’t get caught by the Taliban or how her and her grandchild walked the streets when they weren’t supposed to. The grandmother recalls all the risks she did for her grandaughter and shows her faith in how she was determined for Nasreen to go to school and learn new things. At the end of the story, the author writes, “As for me, my mind is at ease. I still wait for my son and his wife. But the soldiers can never close the windows that have opened for my grandaughter.”
Before I picked out this book at the library, I read a review about how this book relates to current events. I honestly did not know what to expect before reading it. While reading the book, I started to fight back tears a little because I was able to imagine what Nasreen and the other young girls have gone through. They witnessed their families being taken away from them and as a result, the girls shut down and have little hope. It was bittersweet because Nasreen’s grandmother was dedicated to ensure that Nasreen would have a better life, that’s what her parents would have wanted for her. Indeed, I thought the book was controversial in the sense that it does relate to previous events that occurred a few years ago. The text refers the Taliban to as “soldiers” which is supposed to be deemed appropriate for the children. I enjoyed the colorful images and all the metaphors that were used in the book. The vivid details helped me feel sorry for Nasreen, her grandmother, as well as the other young girls. Their lives were being stolen from them. It’s a story about having faith when overcoming a hardship. Nasreen’s grandmother never abandoned her grandchild and wanted a better life for her. If I read this book to children, I believe the appropriate grade level would be anywhere from fourth through sixth grade. I believe the children would have to be more mature about it but teachers should definitely take a rish and read this story to the children because they could engage in a conversation about how would they feel if they were in Nasreem’s shoes. Despite everything, I thought this book was well-written and I was able to place myself in the character’s shoes witnessing her struggle and overcoming it during the most difficult time of her life. I believe that teachers should read this text because it tells true events in a light-hearted sense without being so graphic.
Some questions that I would ask the author were:
1. At the end of the story, you write how Nasreen saw the light in the darkness. However, we did not hear from Nasreen’s point of view or her opinion on this whole matter. Would Nasreen write a book and tell us about her side of the story?
2. Why did the author refer the Taliban to as “soldiers?”
3. What are schools and the role of women like today in Afghanistan?