Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Breadwinner Trilogy

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The story is fictional, I know, yet I cried when I read the YA book, The Breadwinner Trilogy, by Deborah Ellis. Parvana and Shauzia – the Afghan girls who hide their gender, dress and act as boys, risk their lives to venture out of their houses and into the marketplace to earn bits of money so that their families can survive – are not real.

For every tale writers put together, every plot they imagine, there is a person who has experienced something similar, whether an event upon which the book is based, or a theme that is central to it, such as loss. The stories that novels tell are rooted in reality.

Like Parvana and Shauzia, children of war live without adequate food, water, shelter, health care, without basic education and basic human rights. They wither under oppressive regimes such as the Taliban.

And sometimes, these children die. Sometimes their parents die. Their grandparents die. Their brothers and sisters die. Their friends die. Their way of life dies.

How quickly life can unravel. The families of the characters in the story knew normalcy, before their country was invaded, whether by the Russians, the Taliban or the Americans.

The Breadwinner Trilogy consists of three linked novels published separately and now brought together in one volume, The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, and Mud City. The stories are set in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the time of the Taliban and the war that followed the destruction of the World Trade Center towers.

I think it is fair to state that many of us in Canada lead privileged lives. That’s not to negate or minimize the fact that Canada has stories of poverty and unfairness. Street kids, abused women, children living in poverty as a result of the downturn of the economy, lost jobs, working poor. First Nation children grow up on reserves without clean water, without adequate healthcare, without hope for the future, alcoholism and suicide rates high.

In two months, I’ll be a grandmother. It set me thinking about aging, my aging. “What do you want the baby to call you?” my daughter asked, hoping to sort out the ‘name-calling’ in advance for the hierarchy of relatives on both sides of the family. Did I want to be Nana, or Nanny, or Granny, or Grandma?

I was caught off-guard. None of those names seemed “young enough” for me. I discovered websites dedicated to my exact dilemma, offering suggestions for “hip” names for new grandmothers. How silly of me to initiate the search in the first place. Upon reading The Breadwinner Trilogy, I’m reminded to be grateful that I have lived long enough to be a grandmother, that I haven’t suffered in the ways the children and mothers and grandmothers of Afghan have suffered, that my grandchild will be raised in a place of relative peace and prosperity.

My cat took me to his food dish last night, meowed with annoyance because the dish was empty. I cracked open a can of very expensive cat food designed to suit his specific health needs, and refilled a second bowl with cold clean water from my Culligan water cooler. My cat eats and drinks better than the child victims of war. There is shame in that.

Not everyone is an activist, but there are simple actions everyone can take. One very simple action is to buy and read The Breadwinner Trilogy, and then buy a second copy and give it away.

More than a million dollars from the sale of the books have been donated to Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, an organization that supports health and education projects in Afghanistan, and Streets Kids International, an organization that helps street youth worldwide develop skills and health knowledge to better their lives.

Ellis writes, “The money the books have raised has put women to work, children in school, and food in people’s bellies. I’ve been frequently astonished at how easy it is to radically improve someone’s life. It’s an honour to be a part of it.”

Be part of it too. Buy a book. Buy two. Then buy another.

~ Marianne Paul

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Marianne Paul

Marianne Paul's is the author of the novels Dead Girl Diaries (BookLand Press, 2009), Tending Memory (BookLand Press, 2007), Twice in a Blue Moon (BookLand Press, 2007) and The Shunning (Moonstone Press, 1994). Her fiction, non-fiction and poems have appeared in publications such as Vox Feminarum, Cahoots, Canadian Author, Western People and The New Quarterly.

Go to Marianne Paul’s Author Page