Book Review: The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis


The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
Groundwood Books, 2000
Hardcover, 166 pages


Afghanistan, a country that lies south of Russia between Iran and Pakistan, has been fought over for centuries. Today the country is in the hands of the Taliban, whose extreme religious views include forbidding women to appear in public without being covered from head to toe. Women cannot go to school, work outside the home or leave their homes without a man to escort them.

A powerful and realistic novel about loyalty, survival, families, and friendship, The Breadwinner brings this terrible situation home to North American young people with humanity and power. Eleven-year-old Parvana lives with her family in one room of a bombed-out apartment building in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city. Parvana’s father – a history teacher until his school was bombed and his health destroyed – works from a blanket on the ground in the marketplace, reading letters for people who cannot read or write. One day he is arrested for the crime of having a foreign education, and the family is left without someone who can earn money or even shop for food.

As conditions for the family grows desperate, only one solution emerges. Forbidden to earn money as a girl, Parvana must transform herself into a boy, and become the breadwinner.


This was one of those I-want-to-read-the-book-before-watching-the-movie cases. I heard great things about the movie but I wanted to read the book first. I’m more okay with having the movie spoiled for me than for the book to be spoiled. Perhaps because I envision and imagine the book in my mind and the movie presents a different version. Whereas once I see the movie, it’s hard for me to envision it differently in my head once I start reading the book after.

About The Breadwinner, what a beautiful, heartbreaking, uplifting book that seeks to show readers what life is like in Afghanistan. To understand, from a young girl’s perspective, of the greater things happening around her that she can’t necessarily control or change on her own. The only things she can do is survive and make the best out of her situation. I like the book in that it felt simple, straightforward, not embellished, outrageous, and real. Parvana is a great character – she was relateable, fighting with her sister, showing fierce loyalty to her family and friend, and holding her head up high. All while these horrible things were happening around and to her family.

I’m not going to start a movie review blog, but I did want to mention a few thoughts from watching the movie right after finishing reading this book. The movie was… quite different. I felt that it dramatized a lot of the events, intensifying the conflicts, while cutting out characters and other elements from the original story. I thought that it was a good movie, though not true to the novel from which it was adapted. But I did really enjoy the story within a story that is created through Parvana’s storytelling.


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