The Breadwinner (novel)
'The Breadwinner' is a children's novel by Deborah Ellis, first published in 2001. As of April 2001, the English-language edition of the book has had a run of 20 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 (who is by profession a psychologist) 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 runs into a girl that 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. She also meets a family friend named Mrs. Weera, a former physical education teacher who comes to stay with Parvana's family 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 killed by the Taliban, and she had been extremely lucky to run away. Mrs. Weera gladly takes her in. Parvana is very worried since the rest of her family is going 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. The women 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 France twenty years later, at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Deborah Ellis has written two sequels about Parvana and Shauzia, titled Parvana's Journey and Mud City. In 2012, Deborah Ellis published the conclusion to the series, My Name is Parvana. These books were all written by her.
- Ellis, Deborah,The Breadwinner March 2004, Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-275284-0
- About Deborah Ellis fantasticfiction.co.uk
- Deborah Ellis Coteau Books
- Deborah Ellis; OUP profile jubileebooks.co.uk
- Middle East Book Awards
- Ellis, Deborah, Parvana's Journey 2002, Groundwood Books, ISBN 978-0-88899-519-3
- Ellis, Deborah, and Mud City 2003, Groundwood Books, ISBN 978-0-88899-542-1
- Ellis, Deborah, My Name is Parvana 2012, Groundwood Books, ISBN 978-1-55498-297-4
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