This novel’s plot is settled in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, during a war. We are introduced to a family that lives together in a room because their luxurious house was destroyed by a bomb. The Taliban, member’s of the ruling party in Afghanistan, forbid women from exiting the house without being accompanied by a man so the only person being able to provide for the family was the father. Parvana, the protagonist of the novel, went outside only with her father when he went to the market to make a sale.
She helped him walk because her father lost his foot. Parvana observed people and her father while they were working. Her time spent amongst the salesman and her father helped her later on when the Taliban took away her father to prison. She dressed up like a boy so she could walk freely. She would make some sales on the market and read letters that were brought by illiterate Taliban. She also recognized her friend that also dressed up like a boy and the two of them decided to come up with a plan to make some money.
The book deals with some important problems such as women not being able to walk freely on the street, being forced to cover up their whole body, being submissive to men and constantly living under a fear of getting raped. Many people lost their family and went through horrible things, such as Homa, that saw her family dead on the street but had to leave them and run to save herself. They dreamt of a better life and even started running away without knowing where they are going.
The novel is written in the third person singular.
Time: war in Afghanistan
Place: Kabul, capital of Afghanistan
Parvana left the house just to help her father get to the market because he lost his leg. She couldn’t walk out without him because she was a women and it was forbidden to women to walk out of the house alone. Women were also deprived of education because they weren’t able to go to school. Parvana and her sister Nooria also weren’t going to school and their mother, who was a writer for a radio station, lost her job because of the Taliban. They were trapped in a room for more than a year with they five years old sister Maryam and two years old Ali.
Parvana is only 11 and she is very tiny. Her father lost his leg when the school he was teaching at was bombarded. She helped her father get to the market to sell and the Taliban allowed it. While she was sitting next to her father she saw a lot of things. The customers often asked her father to read the letters they got because many people were illiterate. Her parents were one of the rare people who knew how to read. They even knew English. Parvana’s parents were the descendants of an old, appreciated Afghanistan family. They had a beautiful hose destroyed by a bomb and they had to move around a lot. Now they became so poor that they live in a small room. The war in Afghanistan was raging on for 20 years. They sold everything they could on the market. Her father used to have an artificial leg but he had to sell it.
Kabul used to be a beautiful city and Nooria remembered it but Parvana only knows it as a torn down town. Even the building they were living in now was a wreck.
Parvana and her father came home. Parvana’s mother made her go and get water because she hated when the bucket was empty. Parvana’s mother and sister had to wear a burqa and they couldn’t carry the water while they were dressed like that. The mother and Nooria cleaned constantly because there wasn’t much to do. They would choose what clothes will be sold. Parvana saw that they decided to sell her favorite clothes and she confronted them about it. Parvana’s mother told her she had no right to say anything. Parvana had a problem with her mother being always on her sister’s side.
Parvana also had one more brother called Hossain. He was killed by a mine when he was 14 and Parvana was a baby then.
Her father was a history teacher so Parvana lived next to his stories and she enjoyed history because of him.
While they were resting 4 Taliban soldiers walked in and grabbed her father. They started yelling at him because he was schooled in England. Mother began to defend him but they hit her with a gun over the head and she fell to the ground. Parvana’s father told her to be his Malali and take care of everyone. Malali was a girl from his stories that was fearless and with her help Britain lost to Afghanistan. Parvana started hitting soldiers when they wanted to take away her father but they hit her too. She was scared they’ll find his box with books that she wanted to preserve.
The three of them cleaned the apartment after the soldiers left. Parvana couldn’t fall asleep because her father was on her mind. The next morning Parvana and her mother went to rescue her father from prison. They came to the guards and started yelling that they are here to get their husband and father but the guards started kicking them. They left because they realized they were accomplishing nothing.
They came home late and fell asleep immediately. The days went by and nothing important happened. They ran out of food and nobody dared to tell it to their mother. Nooria told her sister that she had to go to the market and get some food. She was scared of going there alone but when she saw her brother’s starved and tired face she decided to go.
She never went to the market alone. First, she bought naan – Afghanistan bread. The women weren’t allowed to walk into a store so they had to shout out what they needed off of the street. Parvana wasn’t really sure will they think of her as a woman.
A Taliban stopped her but she ran away. She ran faster that the wind and accidentally bumped into one of her neighbors Weera who was just headed to her mother. Parvan was glad that someone will finally get her mother back on her feet. Weera took care of her mother and got the some fresh water. They talked at night and realized that they need a plan.
They decided to dress Parvana like a boy because that way she will be able to go to the market and earn some money. She was supposed to wear Hossain’s clothes. Parvana wasn’t on board with the plan at first but in the end, she said yes.
She dressed up and no one could even figure out that she wasn’t a boy. Her mother gave her some money and sent her to the market. Parvana walked out and realized that nobody was paying attention to her and she bought some rice and tee with no problems. She came home happy, but she found her mother depressed again after Weera left and she saw Parvana in her dead brother’s clothes.
The next day her mother sent her to go to the market and try to earn some money like her father did. Parvana was very happy about it. Her mother advised her that if anyone asks who she is, she should just say that she’s her father’s nephew Kaseem. After a while a man stopped and asked her whether she could read. He was a Taliban and he was overwhelmed while she was reading his letter because it was meant for his wife who had passed away. PArvana never saw a Taliban in that light. Later on a man bought some fabric from her and Parvana was happy with the money she earned and went straight home.
Weera decided to move in with them and start up a magazine with her mother so that everyone has something to do. Nooria was supposed to take care of the children.
Parvana went to get the water and since she was dressed like a boy Maryam decided to go outside with her. It has been a year and a half since she went out and she couldn’t fit into her old shoes so they wrapped her legs with fabric.
She had her good and bad work days. One day Parvana saw her father. She started yelling but he didn’t see her. In the end, the man asked who that boy was. It turned out that it wasn’t her father. She started noticing some details on the cover she was working on. She found some fabric, then a bracelet. She could blame it on the wind always. She wanted to know where it came from.
She was boys selling tea and in one of them, she recognized her friend who was also dressing up like a boy.
The two of them exchanged their new names and they started making a plan on how to earn more money. Parvana invited her to her apartment to greet her family. They were all happy to see her.
They would meet up every day on the market. Parvana saw a woman on a window throwing gifts onto her cover. Now she threw her a well-knitted handkerchief.
Her friend Shauzia came and told her that she has a plan but that she won’t like it.
They were supposed to go bones digging. Parvana didn’t like the idea, but she decided to go and do it. They came to a severely bombarded place where a cemetery was. They got a lot of money for the first round and they just kept on digging even though Parvana had to go home for lunch. They decided to keep their job secret and use their paycheck to buy some more things they can sell.
She came clean with her mother and told her what she did and showed her the money. After two weeks the girls had enough money to buy trays they used to display the items they were selling. They were back on the market and Parvana got another gift from the lady from the window.
They walked through town and they stumbled upon a stadium where they decided to sell gums and cigarettes. When they came to the stadium there were no fans. They saw Taliban cutting thieves hands. They hid under the bleachers and managed to run away.
Parvana stayed home for a few days. She decided to forget about the bad things she had seen. Shauzia told her that she was saving money to go to France in spring.
Summer came to Kabul and Parvana’s mother and Weera opened up a small school in the apartment for five girls. One night Parvana found out that her sister was getting married.
They decided to move north, to Mazar-e-Sharif. Taliban weren’t there and they had an opportunity to finish school there. The mother told them they will attend the weeding there and then come back to Kabul in October. Parvana didn’t like it because she hoped her father will come back and she wanted to be here for him. Parvana didn’t want to go but she was forced to do it. In the end, she stayed because it would be hard for her family to explain why she is a boy. She stayed with Weera.
They set off the next day.
In August Parvana was caught by a great storm and she hid in a building. There she heard a woman crying.
Parvana lit up a match and saw a woman sitting and crying. Parvana told her real name and explained why she looked like a boy. The woman wasn’t covered up but Parvana took the risk and took her to Weera. The women didn’t speak until they came home.
She was named Homa and she escaped from Mazar-e-Sharifa because of a Taliban attack. Parvana was terrified because her family was there. The Taliban killed Homa’s family. Parvana spent a few days at home and then she went back to work because Shauzia called her.
One day, while she was walking home, she saw her father sitting on some stairs and she was extremely happy.
The Taliban let him go and two men brought him home. Parvana helped him and healed his wounds.
Miss Weera went to Pakistan with Homa since Parvana didn’t need her now that her father is back.
The woman from the window kept on throwing her gifts and Parvana planted a flower on the spot where she used to sell her items because she was leaving for Mazal with her father. Before she left, Weera gave Parvana a magazine and told her to tell her mother that because of that magazine people knew what was going on in Afghanistan.
She sat in a truck next to her father and went searching for her family.
Characters: Parvana, her parents, Nooria, Weera, Shauzia, Maryam, Ali, Homa
Parvana 1- 11 years old girl that lived with her family in Kabul. They lived in a one-room apartment after their house got destroyed by a bomb. She was very brave and after her father was imprisoned Parvana dressed up like a boy to provide for her family. She did things no child should do. She stopped going to school because the Taliban forbid women from leaving the house. She took care of her family even though she wasn’t always fond of them, especially her sister that always talked to hr in a condescending way.
Parents – well educated and because of that rare types of people in Kabul. They were descendants of rich, prestigious families. The father took care of the family but he ended up in jail and the mother took care of the children.
Nooria P- Parvana’s older sister that liked to show off and she would talk to her in a rude way. She was always covered up. Nooria wanted to continue her education so she was married in Mazal.
Deborah Ellis Biography
Deborah Ellis was born in 1960 in Canada. She started writing when she was 11 or 12. Deborah constantly moved around with her family and on her journeys, she decided to write down the stories of the people she met.
She is a humanitarian and an anti-war activist. During her journey through Afghanistan, she published her first book “The Breadwinner”. She also wrote sequels “Parvana’s journey” and “Mud city”. She also published and adults novel “Women of the Afghan War”.
Except for the problems of countries far away she also wrote about the problems of her homeland Canada. In her book “Looking for X”, where she described a girl living in the poor area of Toronto, Deborah wanted to point out the problem of poverty in Canada.
Her most famous work is “The Heaven Shop”, a novel where she wrote about orphans in Malawi that had AIDS.
She wrote many more works such as: “A Company of Fools”, “Bifocal”, “Children of Mummy”…