The Breadwinner (novel)
|Followed by||Parvana's Journey|
The Breadwinner is a children's novel by Deborah Ellis, first published in 2000. As of October 2013, the English-language edition of the book has had a run of 39 editions. The title of the book refers to the role of the protagonist, 11-year-old Parvana, who is forced by circumstances to be the breadwinner for her family in a war-torn Taliban-era in Afghanistan.
For her research, the author spent several months interviewing women and girls in refugee camps in Pakistan, and used these interviews as the basis of her depiction of life in Afghanistan. The book has received several literary awards, including the Peter Pan Prize and the Middle East Book Award in 2002.
Parvana lives in Kabul, Afghanistan with her mother, her father, her older sister Nooria and two younger siblings, Maryam and Ali. Soon after the novel starts, Taliban soldiers come into her house and arrest her father for not having an Afghan education, instead going to university in a different country. Parvana and her mother go to the jail nearby to see if her father was taken there, but the guards are unhelpful. Soon after her mother becomes depressed and will not move. The family starts to starve, as they have no male escort and so cannot go outside.
Her mother and Mrs. Weera decide to make Parvana disguise as a boy by cutting her hair and making her wear her dead brother Hossain's clothes so that she can buy groceries seeing as she is the only girl who was of age and her body had not developed, and as it worked so well she starts to do it every day. Eventually, she continues her father's business of reading and writing letters for people that can't. Parvana runs into a girl who she used to go to school with named Shauzia who has been put through the same experience. They start to work together and soon become close friends. They were never that close in school but they are now trying to figure out ways to earn more money. They come up with an idea of a portable "shop" by using trays to move their items around. To do that they needed money to buy trays. They find a way to get a lot of money by digging up bones from a grave.
Parvana also meets a family friend named Mrs. Weera, a former physical education teacher who comes to stay with Parvana's family to help her mother get well with her granddaughter and takes charge of the household because Parvana's mother has become severely depressed over the loss of her husband. Eventually, Parvana's mother begins to feel better and eventually teams up with Mrs. Weera and a group of other women to write the Afghanistan National Magazine, smuggling it to and from Pakistan to be published.
Throughout the book, Parvana grows closer to her older sister Nooria, and becomes more responsible and stronger emotionally as a person. She also becomes very close with a woman who appears in the window of a building behind where Parvana works. This woman throws small gifts onto her blanket while she is there.
The climax of the story comes when Parvana's seventeen-year-old sister Nooria announces that she is leaving for Mazar-e-Sharif to get married to a boy, because there is no war and she will be going to college. She leaves along with her mother and younger siblings, but Parvana stays since she looks like a boy and her appearance will be difficult to explain and be kept secret. Despite being against it at first, Parvana grows to accept her sister's decision.
Parvana remains in Kabul with Mrs. Weera. One day after work, she meets a runaway girl from Mazar-e-Sharif who is deeply upset. Parvana leads her home at night, and soon the girl, named Homa, tells them that Mazar-e-Sharif has been captured by the Taliban. Homa's family had been murdered by the Taliban, and she had been extremely lucky to run away. Mrs. Weera gladly takes her in and Parvana is very worried since the rest of her family is there.
One day, Parvana's father returns home, being led by two kind men who found him released from jail, but unable to get home due to the loss of his leg. Mrs. Weera, Homa, and Parvana nurse him back to health, and the novel ends with Parvana and her father leaving to Mazar, hidden in the back of a truck. They will search for their family in refugee camps. Shauzia, who had been planning to run away from her difficult family so that she would not have to marry and could start a new life, tells Parvana that she will be leaving with some nomads. They plan to meet in 20 years in France, at the top of the Eiffel Tower.