Around the World in 80 Books: Afghanistan & America

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Love this series. She's exploring 80 cultures from around the world through reading 80 different books from diverse authors--and she's on track to do it all frugally for under $20.

Welcome to the next installment in my Around the World in 80 Books Challenge! It’s exactly what it sounds like: I’m trying to read 80 books from 80 different countries/cultures around the world, and to add a frugal spin, I’m trying to do it all for under $20.

Here’s my running tally so far:

$0- Library books: Russia, Norway, Sweden, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Spain, Nigeria, New Zealand, China, Canada, Jamaica, Austria, Mali
$2.75- Late fees on the book for Italy
$0- Free eBooks: Scotland, England, Portugal, Cyprus, Albania, Montenegro, Mongolia
$0- Gift: Turkey, Pakistan, Autism in the USA
$0- Won in a Giveaway: Jerusalem
$1.99- eBook: Basque Country, Japan
$0- Paid review on an interesting read: Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Grand Total: $6.73

I haven’t done one of these in a while. I keep getting stuck about halfway through a book, and can’t get myself to commit to finishing–even though that’s my usual practice. While I wasn’t very good at this challenge in 2017, I did read and review some other great books, like Broke Millennial, Make Your Kid a Money Genius and How to Hire a Nanny.

Since it’s been six months, you may not remember that I incurred some late fees on the books from Austria and Mali. My librarians know me pretty well, and they made the generous move of forgiving them for me without me asking. Lucky me!

So we’re still at $6.73, and after today, I will have logged 30 books.

Black AmericaTo Be Young, Gifted and Black

I acquired this memoir-like play from my library last summer. Our family participates in the summer reading program every year, and I got to pick a free book as a reward for that participation.

It took me a while to get to this one. Like I said, I had several books I was halfway through, and wanted to finish them before picking up a new tome.

That was dumb.

Because when I finally picked this one up, I realized Lorraine Hansberry is one of my favorite writers ever. Period. The end.

Hansberry was the playwright behind A Raisin in the Sun. Her success gave her a platform, which she used for activism and encouraging other authors. She was contemporary with MLK, Jr., whom she respected, but also saw as only one part of the solution. Nonviolence was not going to make racial discrimination go away on its own.

Hansberry died in her early 30s as a result of cancer. She had several half-written works which were compiled, along with some of her letters and journal entries, to create this play. It’s phenomenal.

It was alarming how many of her words are still pressingly relevant today. I was struck by certain passages, receiving confirmation of a message I’ve heard time and time again: things are better today than they’ve been before, but the amount of progress we’ve made in our country is small. And we need to do better. Starting yesterday.

I looked for a version of To Be Young, Gifted and Black on YouTube, but only got clips and pieces. Then I got on Twitter and saw #LorraineHansberry trending. I thought maybe Twitter was getting all creepy on me like Google does, but when I checked it out, I saw that PBS had just aired a documentary about Hansberry that night. I missed it, but I’m looking forward to catching up on it. It was apparently pretty powerful.

I’m not surprised.


The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan
I started this challenge after seeing it on Savvy Working Gal years ago. One of her first reads was The Underground Girls of Kabul, and I have been wanting to read it ever since. I finally hit it last summer, right before the spell of books I got halfway through. I usually like to tell you about two books at a time, so I’ve held onto the review until now.

Jenny Nordberg is American. She went to Afghanistan for another story, but happened upon something fascinating while she was there: the woman she was covering had three daughters–but one of them dressed up as a boy on a regular basis. This way, the child could escort their sisters to school, go to work and give the family a bit of an elevated status.

Nordberg found out that not only was it not unusual that the family engaged in this practice, but that it was actually a cultural norm throughout Afghanistan. It even has a name: bacha posh.

But people were reluctant to talk about bacha posh. It was accepted as a regular practice, but also a private family decision that you shouldn’t pry into.

Nordberg questioned whether this practice was child abuse. You raise a girl as a boy for so long, and then once they hit puberty they have to switch their gender identity; they may be in real physical danger if they continue to empower themselves by not meeting cultural gender norms at this point.

I…really don’t think it’s child abuse. One of the people she interviewed called her out on it in this way:

Why does it matter if a child dresses like a girl or a boy? Westerners oversexualize their children.

^Truth. In the words of RuPaul, “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”

Granted, girls and women are oversexualized in general, leading to their oppression in the society Nordberg studied.




Have a recommendation for what I should read next? Leave it in the comments! Here’s what’s already in my queue:
Philippines: May Day Eve and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin recommended by Guiltless Reader
Iceland: Scarcity in Excess by Arna Mathiesen & Thomas Forget
Sudan: The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih recommended by Kate Wilson
Ethiopia: The God Who Begat a Jakal by Nega Mezlekia recommended by Based On a True Story
French Antilles: Victoire: My Mother’s Mother by Maryse Conde recommended by Based on A True Story
Suriname: The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod recommended by Based On A True Story
Germany: In the Garden of Beasts or Devil in the White City by Erik Larson recommended by Emi from AIP Around the World
Haiti: All Souls Rising by Madison Smartt Bell recommended by Tre from House of Tre
South Africa: Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton recommended by Emily from The John & Jane Doe Guide to Money & Investing
Australia: In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson recommended by Aaron from When Life Gives You Lemons, Add Vodka
Romania: Anything by Andre Codrescu recommended by Abigail from I Pick Up Pennies
Croatia: Girl at War by Sara Novi recommened by Erin from TexErin-In-Sydneyland
India: Malguid Days by R.K. Narayan recommended by Michael from Stretch a Dime
Vietnam: The Refugees Nicole from Adventures of a Semper Fi Familyby Viet Than Nyugen recommended by

17 thoughts on “Around the World in 80 Books: Afghanistan & America

  1. Done by Forty

    Man, you win the award for the most interesting blog post I’m going to read this month.

    I am continually reminded how different other cultures are, and that I need to just be more open minded about the way other people do things.

    And that RuPaul quote is amazing.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Honored! And, yes that quote is amazing.

      And that’s a big reason I’m doing this challenge: I want to learn more about how other people operate. I don’t always agree with cultural norms–in my own culture or others (see the Albania read)–but thinking about and questioning them is an important process as we try to be better human beings.

  2. Ms ZiYou

    You’ve just added more to my already overflowing reading list! After Reading Lolilita in Tehran, I think I’m reading for a more challenging read from Afghanistan.

    But on a serious note, I need to read less books by white men. And more books from outside the UK/US sphere. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Yay! And that’s really it–the default is literature from our own historically patriarchal and prejudiced cultures. Getting outside of that can be so eye opening.

  3. Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies

    I love all of your book posts! And I think that pull quote is so interesting. In a moment of no self-control, I almost ordered HP an outfit for his first Valentine’s Day. Holy awkward! The sayings that are supposed to be cutesy (I guess?!) seem so awkward. The Western world does some really unfortunate things with kids’ sexuality and gender.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      YES. Like our boys are supposed to be looking for it from the time they’re wearing onesies, while we boast about our daughters’ looks with cutesy embroidered messages on pink baby t-shirts. WTH.

  4. Sarah | Smile & Conquer

    What an amazing idea to get out of your comfort zone of reading, I’m totally going to steal this idea!

    I also have a couple of recommendations if you’d like to include a Canadian one…Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden (it’s a great read even if he’s a bit controversial) or A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Awesome! I’d be really excited to hear about your reads–please do keep me in the loop!

      And thank you for the recommendations! I have already hit Canada, but loved it so much that it definitely encouraged me to come back to Canadian literature after this challenge is complete. I’ll be checking these out for sure.

  5. RAnn

    wow, I had no idea about that custom in Afghanistan. I don’t know whether to fist-pump “yes” to beating an oppressive system or to shake my head about a girl who is young enough to pass as a boy being considered an adequate escort for a grown woman.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      I had the exact same feelings! But if I’m remembering correctly, a little further on into the book you find out that the custom is fairly old–predating modern culture quite significantly. Doesn’t mean I don’t still have complex feelings about it, but it’s not something new since the USSR fell or anything.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Thank you so much, Vicki! And I’m doing my best! Nearly all of them have been fantastic titles so far.

  6. Pingback: Around the World in 80 Books: Bosnia Herzegovina | Femme Frugality

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