Book Club Discussion: The Underground Girls of Kabul

The Underground Girls of Kabul From Left toWrite Book Club

The Underground Girls of Kabul From Left toWrite Book Club

Our book club has been abuzz for the past couple of weeks as we read our advance copies of  The Underground Girls of Kabul by investigative journalist Jenny Nordberg. Today, on the book’s release date, we can finally share our discussion of this thought provoking look into a well-known secret practice in Afghanistan: families with no sons who raise their young daughters as boys.

Nordberg interviews and follow several girls (and their families) to further understand this practice of pacha posh, but also digs deep into gender roles in Afghanistan and in western society. I found this book utter fascinating and other From Left to Write members did as well. Head over to their blogs to read their essays inspired by The Underground Girls of Kabul.

Seriously, buy a copy of The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg and one for a friend. You’ll want to discuss it with someone once you’re done. Whether you’re reading the book solo or with your book club, download the Reader’s Guide to Underground Girls of Kabul.

Follow Jenny Nordberg via her websiteTwitter, and Facebook.

Book Club Feature: The Underground Girls of Kabul

The Underground Girls of Kabul From Left toWrite Book Club

The Underground Girls of Kabul From Left toWrite Book Club

Our first September Book Club selection is The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg. I’ve already finished reading it, and I can’t wait to discuss it with our members.  You’ll definitely want to pre-order the book now because journalist Jenny Nordberg jumps right into a hidden practice of Afghanistan:

In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as “dressed up like a boy”) is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for theNew York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom. 

The Underground Girls of Kabul 
is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents’ attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults. 

At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America’s longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg


The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg releases September 16, 2014 but pre-order it now. Seriously, it’s good. You’ll want to crack it open after reading From Left to Write members’ discussion on September 16.

Whether you’re reading the book solo or with your book club, download the Reader’s Guide to Underground Girls of Kabul.

Follow Jenny Nordberg via her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Book Club Discussion: 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas

2AM at Cat's Pajamas FL2W Book Club Banner

2AM at Cat's Pajamas FL2W Book Club Banner

After a slightly relaxed summer, we’ve jumped right back in our book club reading. This month we’re discussing  2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajama by Marie-Helene Bertino, a novel about the seemingly unconnected lives in a small Philadelphia neighborhood. Thanks to the The Cat’s Pajamas jazz club, the characters discover how music intertwines their lives and those around them.

From Left to Write book club members loved the novel. Head over to their blogs to read their stories inspired the novel and join our book club discussion of 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajama’s.

Want to see what books are on Marie-Helene’s nightstand? Learn more about Marie-Helene Bertino at her website, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Did you read 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajama? Share your thoughts in the comments!

What’s On Your Nightstand: Marie-Helene Bertino

Marie-Helene Bertino

What's On Your Nightstand-From Left to Write

Since we’re reading  2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas for our August From Left to Write book club, I asked author Marie-Helene Bertino to share the books she’s currently reading. One of her books was already on my to-be-read list. Take it away, Marie-Helene!

Marie-Helene Bertino

Photo courtesy of author

I just finished reading Ramona Ausubel’s story collection, Guide to Being Born. I had read a few of the stories but not altogether, at once. You will note that it came out last year. I am eternally late to every reading party, but at least I am normally holding some delicious sort of fruit tart. How delicious this collection is! It is fearless, deeply felt, and wildly beautiful on the line level. Admire this line: “The whole world squirmed with hunger and desire, in the thick and thin places, in the trees and in the clearings.” It’s not often I read a collection and think: this writer has imagination coming out of his/her gesastahagen! This collection is stunning.

I’m reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I don’t think it’s ruining anything to tell you that it begins with a famous actor dying onstage in the middle of a production of King Lear. That alone would be reason enough for me to read it—I’m a former theatre kid, and a sucker for anything set amidst that eccentric and enigmatic world. In addition to that, Mandel’s reputation precedes her. I heard someone refer to Mandel as “her favorite writer.” There can many times be a difference between writers we admire and writers who are our “favorites.” I’m excited to discover the work that has inspired this kind of loyalty.

On deck is another enigmatic book, Preparing The Ghost  by Matthew Gavin Frank. This book had me at “giant squid,” as the classification and documentation of marine life is endlessly fascinating to me. As a child I “classified” many “heretofore unknown marine animals” at my grandmother’s home on The Delaware Bay. By that I mean I took many walks on the sandbars with my dog, taking notes and pretending to be a marine biologist. I admire this book’s refusal to commit to a genre—it’s part fiction, part memoir, part philosophical essay, part poetry. As someone who often thinks the scrims between genres should be permeable formalities at best, I admire Frank’s scope and imagination.

2 AM at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bartino

Marie-Helene Bertino is the author of Safe as Houses, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Prize. An Emerging Writer Fellow at New York’s Center for Fiction, she has spent six years as an editor and writing instructor at One Story. A Philadelphia native, she currently lives in Brooklyn.

Follow Marie-Helene on Facebook and Twitter and make sure to grab a copy of  2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas and join our book club discussion on August 28.

Book Club Feature: 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas

2 AM at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bartino

2AM at Cat's Pajamas FL2W Book Club Banner

We’re ushering the last days of summer with a jazzy book club feature for August: 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas (Crown) by Marie-Helene Bertino. I know you’ve been doing plenty of summer reading, but don’t the warm days pass you by without immersing yourself into streets of Philadelphia at The Cat’s Pajamas jazz club:

Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken father, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia’s legendary jazz club The Cat’s Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat’s Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.

As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night.

I met author Marie-Helene Bertino during Crown Publishing’s gathering at BEA and she sang a jazz number for the crowd. Let me tell you, she’s so sweet and has a great voice! Clearly the music inspires her.

Marie-Helene Bertino singing jazz

Marie-Helene Bertino singing (sorry for blurry photo-it was dark!)

Pick up a copy of 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas  and join From Left to Write members on August 28 as we discuss the novel.

2 AM at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bartino


Want to see what books are on Marie-Helene’s nightstand? Learn more about Marie-Helene Bertino at her website, on Facebook and on Twitter.


Book Club Discussion: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie & Chocolate Factory From Left to Write Banner

Charlie & Chocolate Factory From Left to Write Banner

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,  I asked From Left to Write members to reread this classic and/or to introduce their children to this childhood classic.  Many of our members enjoyed the bonding time as they read the books aloud or along with their kids.

Take a look at what our bloggers had to say as we discuss Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Some even had their children join the discussion! Then make sure you enter the Golden Ticket Sweepstakes (see below for details on how):

Now that you’ve read our discussion,  celebrate along with us!  To celebrate this milestone, Penguin Young Readers Group, in partnership with Dylan’s Candy Bar, the world-famous candy emporium, and First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides books for children from low-income families, is launching a year-long international celebration.

National Golden Sweepstakes Charlie Chocolate Factory

Enter the National Golden Ticket Sweepstakes (Ends on August 15th)

Don’t wait to enter because the contest ends August 15th! Plus, for each  each sweepstakes entry received, Penguin will make a donation First Book. For sweepstakes entry forms, or download your form here.

Inspired by the Golden Ticket Competition in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which provided Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregard, Mike Teavee, and Charlie Bucket with golden tickets to Willy Wonka’s mysterious Chocolate Factory, Penguin Young Readers Group will grant FIVE lucky winners the Golden Ticket trip of a lifetime to New York City that includes:

  •   A VIP experience at Dylan’s Candy Bar
  •  Tickets to Matilda the Musical
  •  A year’s supply of chocolate
  •  A visit to the Empire State building
  •  A library of Roald Dahl books
  • And MORE!

In partnership with First Book, a non-profit that provides books for children from low-income families.  Penguin Young Readers provides:

  •  A monetary donation and one brand new Penguin trade children’s book for every national sweepstakes entry received.  The book donation will include copies of the anniversary edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which will be distributed by First Book to registered programs and schools serving children in need throughout the United States and Canada.
  • A donation of a full set of Dahl Penguin titles (17 in total), 50 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory books, and a bean bag to each school selected by First Book’s Advisory Boards in 20 markets as part of the First Book Golden Ticket Giveaway.