Parvana’ Journey is the 2nd book in Deborah Ellis’ trilogy set in Afghanistan in the mid-’90s. We read The Breadwinner in the fall, while we were on our trip, and somehow hadn’t got around to acquiring the other two books until recently.
In my review of the first book, I suggested that the nature of the story might make this more appropriate for a day time read aloud. The second book comes with a similar recommendation. The subject matter might be disturbing for many children and the book doesn’t leave you thinking about stuff you generally want to think about right before going to sleep. It is a children’s book, written to be accessible to children (of probably 10 and up) but it is set in wartime with all that that entails. Use your judgment about your own child’s reaction to what used to be called “man’s inhumanity to man”.
Parvana’s Journey takes place some time after the action in The Breadwinner. The main character is still dressing as a boy for social and economic reasons. The book opens as she is burying her father, leaving her alone travelling through Afghanistan searching for her mother and sisters. The rest of her family had gone from Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif at the end of the first book for a wedding but there were bombings shortly afterwards and Parvana and her father were searching for them. This book is the tale of Parvana’s journey through her war torn country to find them. Some of this she undertakes alone. Some with other children she meets along the way.
Ellis treats this difficult subject with compassion. She does not spare us difficult details of life in war but she deals with them in very sensitively. Although I was sometimes moved to tears, I did not find the book dispiriting. The relationships are well drawn and give reason for hope in difficult times. Somehow Ellis manages to show us that there are universal qualities to relationships that endure despite significant differences in context. The relationship between Parvana and Asif, a boy she meets on route who joins her, is particularly funny.
“It would probably really annoy you if I came with you, wouldn’t it?” Asif said. “You’d probably hate it. You’re probably wishing and wishing that I’ll stay behind.”
Parvana smoothed the wrinkles out of one of the washed diapers. She didn’t say anything.
“In that case,” Asif said, “I’ll come. Just to annoy you.”
Parvana felt a strange, surprising relief. She had known, deep inside, that she wouldn’t have been able to leave him behind.
“Please don’t,” she said.
“Forget it,” he said. “My mind is made up. And don’t try to sneak away without me, because I’ll catch you, and you’ll be sorry.”
The book raises some important issues that you might want to discuss. About the morality of stealing when you are very hungry, for example. Or the fact that bombs and landmines often kill non-combatants.
They watched as a group of planes streamed across a corner of the sky. A moment later there was a sound like thunder rumbling in the distance. They saw dust rise up from the far hills.
The girls had seen these planes before. They were nothing special.
“Grownups killing each other,” Parvana said, and she turned away to look for her mother in the other direction.
“I kill,” Leila said.
Parvana looked at her.
“I kill pigeons,” Leila said. “I don’t like to do it, but it,s not hard. It must be much harder to kill a goat or a donkey. It is hard to kill a child?” she asked suddently.
“It should be,” Parvana said, “but some people seem to find it awfully easy.”
“As easy as killing a pigeon?”
“Easier, I think.”
“We eat dead pigeons,” Leila said. “What do they do with all the dead children?”
Parvana didn’t even try to answer that question. She put her arm around her new little sister, and together they watched the bombs go off, way in the distance.
Or the nature of family. There are also more mundane issues like the importance of hygiene and how housework makes life more pleasant.
“Mother wouldn’t recognize me,” Parvana laughed, “doing housework without being told.”
I have been reading this to Tigger as she works on beading. We haven’t really talked much about the broader historical context of the setting of this book, though Tigger is aware that there is still war going on in Afghanistan. Issues get discussed as they come up. But then I often find that Tigger will recall things like this some time later and bring it into a conversation about something else. But that is one of the joys of homeschooling. We can just read things together and enjoy them. If we want to discuss them, fine. But if that doesn’t seem appropriate right now, we can do it another time.