To Afghan men, the divisions between sexes seem essential and intractable, traversable only by the temporary deceit of bacha posh. To the rest of the world, territorial control and the isolation of the war-torn, the undocumented, the refugee, seems just as crucial. In the middle are Afghan women, the losers of both hierarchies, local and global; allowed sometimes, but always temporarily and often only to substantiate the power or pity of others. At the end of Nordberg’s book, the Americans are leaving; Azita has lost her re-election bid and the public and private privileges that came with her office. Mehran, her stand-in son, is older, closer to puberty and being changed back into a girl. The lie is almost up, and the worth of the experiment seems, for all, questionable. By RAFIA ZAKARIA
THE UNDERGROUND GIRLS OF KABUL
In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan
By Jenny Nordberg
350 pp. Crown Publishers. $25.