My Name Is Parvana

On a military base in post-Taliban Afghanistan, American authorities have just imprisoned a teenaged girl found in a bombed-out school. The army major thinks she may be a terrorist working with the Taliban. The girl does not respond to questions in any language and remains silent, even when she is threatened, harassed and mistreated over several days. The only clue to her identity is a tattered shoulder bag containing papers that refer to people named Shauzia, Nooria, Leila, Asif, Hassan — and Parvana. In this long-awaited sequel to The Breadwinner Trilogy, Parvana is now fifteen years old. As she waits for foreign military forces to determine her fate, she remembers the past four years of her life. Reunited with her mother and sisters, she has been living in a village where her mother has finally managed to open a school for girls. But even though the Taliban has been driven from the government, the country is still at war, and many continue to view the education and freedom of girls and women with suspicion and fear.

One thought on “My Name Is Parvana

  1. Ebersole & Sung says:

    I found this story of a 15-year-old girl’s fight survival in post-Taliban Afghanistan both revealing and captivating. Deborah Ellis skillfully captures life and struggles for Afghan girls and women through Parvana’s story. I was particularly moved by the remarkable psychological and emotional strength of the character portrayed in the story. Although impatient and outspoken by nature, Parvana’s use of silence showed tremendous willpower and patience. Ironically, she was able to use silence as a means to buy her time so that she might be able to be free in the end.
    This powerful and intriguing story reveals a number of compelling issues in a short novel, one that is perfect for intermediate and middle school readers. Some of these issues – women in Afghan society, the impact of the “foreigners” in Afghanistan, the varying educational perspectives, effects of war, breaking away from traditional cultural practices/establishing new cultural values to make life better – can provide a meaningful place for children to reflect upon their own cultural beliefs and practices, a place to help them learn about the social, historical, and political contexts around the world, and perhaps like Deborah Ellis be inspired to make life better for children like Parvana.
    Yoo Kyung:
    When I read Deborah Ellis’s Parvana trilogy stories several years ago (The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, and Mud City), my response focused on the hardships of living in Afghanistan with its political complexity and the fear and frustration that that engendered. I noticed this time, though, that with My Name Is Parvana I paid more attention to Parvana’s teen agency and ability for self-protection in a seemingly horrific situation. Parvana is empowered as she protects herself from unknown threats against her school, copes with her mother’s death, and endures imprisonment and torture all while still being a ‘child’ in that she is still a young person free to imagine and dream more creatively and frequently than most of grown-ups can or do. Parvana constantly uses her ability of imagining and dreaming as a source of hope despite physical and mental attacks. As a teenage girl, she did not need others’ affirmation to assure her security. When a senior member of a U. S. troop investigates Parvana with a range of discomforting tactics that all but accused her of being a terrorist, it did not intimidate her at all. Her imagination is one tool she uses to survive, “ Parvana closed her ears. She tried to send her mind somewhere else,” (p. 49) as her reality intruded, “ She pulled her brain out of Paris and back into Afghanistan” (p. 60). Even though her situation feels far away from life in Western countries, the cultural dynamics among siblings, her mother, and her peers are universal. Readers can relate to how Parvana and her older sister had both a loving and hate filled relationship. A Cinderella deja vu even occurs when her older sister, Nooria, claims her successful New York University admission due to a story she stole from Parvana about being a breadwinner while disguising herself as a boy to support her family. Parvana questions whether her mother loved her after she lost her. Yet, she answers by admitting that she did not like her mother but loved her instead. Such resilience will draw readers’ agreeing nods.
    Although the story deals with heavy social oppression centered on gender inequality and domestic violence, the portrayal of the ignorant mindset of the U. S. military leader’s understanding of Afghanistani cultures invites irresistible chuckles. Parvana reads a wide range of American classic literature. The U.S. commander knows how much Parvana loves reading and he teases her with books to make her speak and answer his questions.

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