TIME Books

I’m a Woman Who Lived as a Boy: My Years as a Bacha Posh

The Underground Girls of Kabul
The Underground Girls of Kabul Crown

For 9 years of her youth in Afghanistan, Faheema lived as Faheem—a boy, one free from the societal barriers and stigmas women face

Jenny Nordberg’s The Underground Girls of Kabul, published Sept. 16, is the result of five years of research into why it’s not uncommon for girls in Afghanistan to be brought up as boys. Nordberg, an investigative reporter, discovered the practice in 2009, and detailed it in a story for The New York Times.

The Underground Girls of Kabul explores the reasons for, and the consequences of, this longstanding practice, which has affected many Afghan girls and women. It also offers a glimpse into the situation for women there, which remains precarious.

What happens to such a person, Nordberg wondered, when they relocate to a society that values women more, and there is no longer a need to hide? She recently connected with another young Afghan woman, now living in the U.S., who once passed as a boy in her home country.

Exclusively for TIME, this is the story of Faheema.

**

Liberating. That’s how it felt, walking out the door for the first time as a boy. I was 12. I was no longer Faheema, who needed to be proper and watch her every move, but Faheem, who had guts and could go where he wanted. That was my right as a bacha posh—from Dari, it translates to, “dressed up as a boy.” It’s what they call girls who live their lives disguised as boys in Afghanistan. And I suppose those who eventually become boys on the inside, too.

My family had returned to Kabul after the Taliban, and in 2002, society was so much more conservative there than in Pakistan, where we had lived as refugees. Girls were looked down upon, and being one was made very difficult.

With short hair and in pants, I found that no one would look at me on the street, or harass me. I did not have to wear the scarf. I could look people in the eyes. I could speak to other boys, and adult men too. I did not have to make myself smaller by hunching over. I could walk fast. Or run, if I felt like it.

In fact, I had been brought up as a boy—I just didn’t look like one at first.

At home, I was the one who got things done. We were carpet weavers, and I ran the family enterprise from our house. Seven other, younger, children took orders from me. My parents often told me they wished I had been born a boy. They have said it for as long as I can remember; my father in particular. It would have made more sense, he said, since I was a harder worker than any of my brothers.

Even while living as a girl, I tried to do everything Afghan society and culture said I couldn’t do. I became strong. I took responsibility. I educated myself and my siblings. I helped my father with his guests and all the technical work at the house. But I still felt inadequate.

Most bacha posh in Afghanistan are made that way by their parents. But my story is different. One day I made the decision for myself to switch. I gave them what they asked for.

It worked.

The attitude, the lowered voice; how I moved with more confidence. I could disappear in a crowd. The more divided a society, the easier it is to change the outside. Others bought it. It shocked me that I could trick those harassing eyes just by how I looked. Being a boy allowed me to function as a more of a whole person in society. It was practical. I could protect my sisters, and escort them to class in winter. It pleased my parents, too. At least they did not protest.

I spent nine years as a boy. I continued trying to please my parents like that until a few years ago, when I came to a small town in America to go to college. My turning point was when I started thinking about being a woman. Why should I need to hide? Could I not have the same pride, and the same abilities, as a girl? Why did only my male self have that strength? I had been so proud to be a boy, in that I had figured it out and outsmarted everyone. That I had won. But I began feeling more and more angry. I was like, “How long will I have to do this?”

To be honest, I had always thought of being a bacha posh as my own choice; that I was doing something also for myself, and of my own free will. But that was not entirely true, I realize now. My parents’ wish for me to be a boy forced me to become one. I took it too literally. So a few years ago, I wanted to try and accept myself as a girl. I knew it was inevitable at some point anyway.

By then, I was 18 but I still had no breasts, and my periods were irregular. When my mother had sought out a doctor in Kabul, he said that my psyche may be turning into that of a man’s. It scared her. She worried I may never be able to turn back.

It was hard. I began letting my hair grow out. Now it’s almost all the way down to my waist. I also went to see a psychologist at my university. We talked about what is male and what is female in me. I don’t know what normal is, but I am not as angry anymore. The differences between men and women exist here too, but there is no need for me to pretend to be a man in order to go outside, or to count as a full person. In some ways America is a conservative society too, and it’s so important for many people to be either male or female. I have both in me now and that’s how I’ll always be.

I think often about what it means.

Being a man gives you so many privileges, you don’t see the small things. You own the world and everything is yours. As a boy, I was very busy thinking of everything I needed and wanted. That’s what you do. You just don’t take much of it in. You focus on yourself. A lot is expected of you as a man, so you have to.

As a woman, you see more. You notice what’s around you. To me, that is the essence of it. You relate to others. As a woman, I have a soft core that melts with everything. As a woman, I can feel what others feel. I see what they see. And I cry with them. I think of that as the female in me. I allow that now.

I’m in my twenties now, and I don’t expect to live long. A woman’s average life in Afghanistan is 44 years, so I’m halfway done. I would like to stay here and become an anthropologist, but my American visa expires in a few months, and then I have to return home.

My father still only accepts me as a boy, not as a girl. We talk on Skype: He is a macho colonel in Afghanistan who calls me every day. Like my close friends, he is still allowed to call me by my boy name. But I know now that both my family and much of my society was wrong in saying that only boys can do certain things. They are the ones who don’t allow girls to do anything.

I have complicated feelings about the freedom I have here in the West. It’s borrowed. It’s not really mine. Deep down you know it’s going to be taken away at any moment. Just like that of a bacha posh.

As told to and edited by Jenny Nordberg.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Business

What Are 5 Books That Can Change Your Life?

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Violet D'Art—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Don't forget these on your next trip to the library

I recently posted about five of my must-read books. Here are a few more that have really made a difference in my life:

1) 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute

What is it?

If you like this blog, you’ll love this book. Richard Wiseman takes psychology research and tells you how to use it to improve your life in a straightforward (but entertaining) way.

What did I learn from it?

A ton. I learned that:

This video describes some of Wiseman’s work.

Check out the book here.

2) Creativity

What is it?

For his book Creativity, noted professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did interviews with 91 groundbreaking individuals across a number of disciplines, including 14 Nobel Prize winners. What do they have in common? What does it take to be a successful creative professional?

What did I learn from it?

They weren’t stars in school. Almost all have IQ’s over 130 — but once past the 130 threshold, all that mattered was effort. They were all curious and driven. They take their intuition seriously. More here.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studies creativity, happiness, and flow. Here’s his TED talk.

Check out the book here.

3) Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

What is it?

Brian Wansink studies our behavior around food. And his work is fascinating. You eat for a lot of reasons — and hunger is rarely the primary one.

What did I learn from it?

  • Dessert tastes better on fine china than a paper plate.
  • Big plates make you eat more.
  • Wine from California tastes better than wine from North Dakota — even if it’s the same wine with different labels.
  • And a lot more.

Wansink discusses his research here.

Check out the book here.

4) Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t

What is it?

Want to understand how office politics works? Want to learn how to get better at playing the game? This is the book. Combines research with examples to give you a modern Machiavelli’s The Prince. Even if you don’t work in an office it’s a must-read because these factors are fundamental to human nature.

What did I learn from it?

I did a whole post about the book here.

Author (and Stanford MBA school professor) Jeffrey Pfeffer discusses some of the book’s ideas in this video.

Check out the book here.

5) Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

What is it?

How can you spur innovation and creativity in your life without taking big risks? Little bets are the answer. Author Peter Sims lays out a system for pushing the envelope without danger, pulling from scientific research and great examples (like how Chris Rock develops his comedy routines.)

What did I learn from it?

It’s an excellent system to make sure you keep learning and growing in almost any area of your life. I posted about the book and similar theories here.

Peter Sims spoke about the book at Google.

Check out the book here.

Again, they are:

Join 25K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

What are the top five books you must-read?

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

What five things can make sure you never stop growing and learning?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Bizarre

Why Smoke 110 Cigarettes at Once? Anything For a World Record

From the May 13, 1974, issue of TIME
From the May 13, 1974, issue of TIME TIME

The Guinness Book of World Records has inspired some dubious feats over the years

Guinness World Records releases its 2015 edition this week, featuring a Pomeranian that’s the fastest dog on two paws and Metallica, the first musical act to perform a concert on every continent.

The book is also the 60th anniversary edition, but things have changed since the first-ever Guinness records book arrived in 1955. Though early editions were full of miscellany and trivia, its records tended to be fairly basic: fastest, tallest, smallest, deepest. But, as TIME reported in a May 13, 1974, feature on an “oddball Olympics,” a group of 200 California students who gathered to beat previous world records and set new ones, the records have gotten weirder. This passage shows the great lengths people will go to achieve such an honor, something current record holders will be able to relate to:

During the week-long oddball Olympics, contestants in 75 events set eleven new world records. John Parker, 24, made himself a 1975 edition Guinness notable by downing 300 goldfish, 75 more than the previous oldie goldie. Rick Sumner, 14, polished off 20 doughnuts in 9 min. 59 sec., beating the old record of 20 in 15 min. John McKinney, 17, and Rick Sackett, 25, each crammed 52 cigars into their mouths and kept them alight for 30 sec. (v. the previous record of 28 lit for 30 sec.). Another titlist, Scott Case, managed to smoke 110 cigarettes simultaneously for 30 sec. without endangering his health. Kevin Farrell and Corey Fletcher each stood on one leg for 7½ hr., 60 min. longer than anyone ever has before.

Allan Littman, 17, consumed a pound of grapes, with seeds, in 52 sec. to crush the old mark of 65 sec. Allan Greenberg, 22, twirled a record album on his forefinger for 5 hr. Bruce Stewart and Robert Argust slapped each other’s faces for 31 hr. to top the old record by one hour. Frank Dolce blew 116 smoke rings on one drag to break the old high by 30.

And the weirdness has continued. Other fun records TIME highlighted over the years include:

The longest song title, mentioned in the People section in 1969: “I’m a Cranky Old Yank in a Clanky Old Tank on the Streets of Yokohama with my Honolulu Mama Doin’ Those Beat-o, Beat-o, Flat-on-My-Seat-o, Hirohito Blues” by composer Hogey Carmichael.

The world’s largest diary, reviewed in 1995: 20 million words spanning 67 years and roughly 35,000 pages, penned by New York World reporter Edward Robb Ellis. The quality of the writing lives up to the quantity, based on his description of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy, the face of the Red Scare: “McCarthy has the slim hips of an athlete, a thick trunk and shoulders like a buffalo. Almost lacking a neck, his huge head seems perched on his shoulders. His mouth is long and thin, like a knife-gash in a melon.”

Fastest beer drinker, featured in a 1983 profile. Before Robert Hawke was known as Australia’s longest-serving Labor prime minister, he guzzled 2.5 pints of beer in 12 seconds at Oxford, earning a spot in the record book.

Read about the 1974 record-breakers here, in TIME’s archives: Oddball Olympics

TIME Books

9 Ugly Lessons About Sex From Big Data

Dataclysm
Dataclysm Courtesy Random House

Christian Rudder, author of Dataclysm and a founder of OkCupid, dives into the numbers and surfaces with some revelations on love, sex, race and culture

Big Data: the friend you met at a bar after your usual two drinks, plus one. You leaned in, listening more intently than usual. “Digital footprint.” “Information Age.” You nodded and smiled, even though you didn’t understand. “Change the world.” “The future.” You were impressed—and even if you weren’t, you faked it well.

Come morning, you have only fuzzy recollections of Big Data, its tag lines and buzzwords. You also find it vaguely reprehensible.

If you’re still up for it, there’s another side of Big Data you haven’t seen—not the one that promised to use our digital world to our advantage to optimize, monetize, or systematize every last part our lives. It’s the big data that rears its ugly head and tells us what we don’t want to know. And that, as Christian Rudder demonstrates in his new book, Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), is perhaps an equally worthwhile pursuit. Before we heighten the human experience, we should understand it first.

Rudder, a co-founder of OkCupid and Harvard-educated data scientist, analyzed millions of records and drew on related research to understand on how we search and scramble for love. But the allure of Rudder’s work isn’t that the findings are particularly shocking. Instead, the insights are ones that most of us would prefer not to think about: a racial bias against black women and Asian men, or how “gay” is the top Google Search suggestion for “Is my husband… .”

Here are 9 revelations about sex and dating, courtesy of Rudder, Dataclysm, and, of course, big data.

1. Straight men think women have an expiration date.

Although women tend to seek men around their age, men of all ages are by far looking for women in their early 20s, according to OkCupid data. While men often set their age filters for women into the 30s and beyond, rarely do they contact a woman over 29.

2. Straight women are far less likely to express sexual desire than are other demographics.

On OkCupid, 6.1% of straight men are explicitly looking for casual sex. For gay men, it’s 6.9%, and for lesbians, 6.9%. For straight women, it’s only 0.8%.

3. “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

Like any good data scientist, Rudder lets literature—in this case, Thoreau—explain the human condition. Rudder cites a Google engineer who found that searches for “depictions of gay men” (by which the engineer meant gay porn) occur at the rate of 5% across every state, roughly the proportion of the world’s population that social scientists have estimated to be gay. So if a poll shows you that, for instance, 1% of a state’s population is gay, the other 4% is probably still out there.

4. Searches for “Is my husband gay?” occur in states where gay marriage is least accepted.

Here’s a Big Data nugget you can see for yourself: Type “Is my husband” in Google, and look at your first result. Rudder notes that this search is most common in South Carolina and Louisiana, two states with some of the lowest same-sex marriage approval rates.

5. According to Rudder’s research, Asian men are the least desirable racial group to women…

On OkCupid, users can rate each other on a 1 to 5 scale. While Asian women are more likely to give Asian men higher ratings, women of other races—black, Latina, white—give Asian men a rating between 1 and 2 stars less than what they usually rate men. Black and Latin men face similar discrimination from women of different respective races, while white men’s ratings remain mostly high among women of all races.

6. …And black women are the least desirable racial group to men.

Pretty much the same story. Asian, Latin and white men tend to give black women 1 to 1.5 stars less, while black men’s ratings of black women are more consistent with their ratings of all races of women. But women who are Asian and Latina receive higher ratings from all men—in some cases, even more so than white women.

7. Users who send copy-and-paste messages get responses more efficiently.

OkCupid tracks how many characters users type in messages versus how many letters are actually sent. (For most users, it’s three characters typed for every one character sent.) In doing this analysis, Rudder found that up to 20% of users managed to send thousands of characters with 5 keystrokes or less—likely Control+C, Control+V, Enter. A little more digging showed that while from-scratch messages performed better by 25%, copy-and-paste messages received more replies per unit of effort.

8. Your Facebook Likes reveal can reveal your gender, race, sexuality and political views.

A group of UK researchers found that based on someone’s Facebook Likes alone, they can tell if a user is gay or straight with 88% accuracy; lesbian or straight, 75%; white or black, 95%; man or woman, 93%; Democrat or Republican, 85%.

9. Vermont doesn’t shower a whole lot, relatively speaking.

Rudder has doled out some heavy info to ponder, so here’s some that’s a little lighter: in general, according to his research, in states where it’s hotter, people shower more; where it’s colder, people shower less. Still, the Northeast is relatively well-washed. Except, that is, for Vermont. Rudder has no idea why. Do you?

 

Rudder has a few takeaways from beyond the realm of love, too…

— On an insignificant July morning, Mitt Romney gained 20,000 Twitter followers within a few minutes.

Rudder dives further into social media data to show that Mitt Romney gained 18,860 new followers at 8 a.m. on July 22, 2012. Nothing particularly interesting happened on that day, and that spike in followers was about 200 times what he was getting immediately before and after. The secret? Likely purchasing followers. And Romney isn’t the only politician to do so—it’s a common practice, Rudder says, as we seek to strengthen our “personal brands.”

— Obama’s election and inauguration caused a massive spike in Google searches for “n-gger.”

According to Google Search data, search volume for “n-gger” more than doubled when Obama was elected in Nov. 2008, then fell rapidly within one month. When Obama was inaugurated in Jan. 2009, it similarly spiked, and then immediately fell. We don’t have national conversations on race, Rudder suggests, just national convulsions.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

Forgotten Dr. Seuss Stories Find a New Audience

In 'Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories,' familiar characters like Horton and the Grinch appear in new predicaments

Dr. Seuss fans will have a chance to read four of the famed cartoonist’s long-forgotten stories in a new volume, Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories, out today. The book features beloved characters as Seuss (whose real name is Theodor Geisel) rendered them for Redbook magazine in the 1950s. Though Seuss died in 1991, a collector and biographer, Charles Cohen, helped catalyze the new Horton after finding archival material in the magazine.

An illustration from Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss
Marco in an illustration from Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss Courtesy of Random House

In “Marco Comes Late,” Marco, from his first children’s book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, makes up a fantastical story to explain why he was really late to school.

An illustration from Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss
Horton and the Kwuggerbug in an illustration from Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss Courtesy of Random House

In “Horton and the Kwuggerbug,” a demanding insect called a Kwuggerbug sends Horton, the elephant best known for hearing a Who, on a wild mission that involves climbing mountains and standing up to crocodiles to find Beezlenuts—a delicious, sought-after dessert.

The Grinch is still as grouchy as ever and preaches about the pitfalls of consumerism in “The Hoobub and the Grinch,” reflecting the author’s “feelings about his history in advertising,” according to the book’s introduction written by Charles D. Cohen, a dentist who collects Dr. Seuss memorabilia.

An illustration from Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss
Officer Pat in an illustration from Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss Courtesy of Random House

And the extremely paranoid policeman Officer Pat from “How Officer Pat Saved the Whole Town” was meant to be a book unto himself, but Random House opted to publish Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories instead.

The original illustrations live in the archives of the Dr. Seuss Collection at the University of California at San Diego.

TIME Books

5 Things You Might Not Know About Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss, Aug. 11, 1967
From the Aug. 11, 1967, issue of TIME TIME

From TIME's 1967 profile of the beloved author

Dr. Seuss, who died in 1991, is back in the news with the release Tuesday of the new book Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories. The book contains four stories that were published in Redbook in the 1950s, where the celebrated The Cat in the Hat author had a regular column.

In 1967, TIME sent a reporter to cover a summer program for kids at the La Jolla Museum of Art in California, which also starred Theodore Geisel, better known then and now as Dr. Seuss. “If you don’t get imagination as a child, you probably never will,” he said, explaining the need for the program, “because it gets knocked out of you by the time you grow up.”

In honor of his lesser-known stories, here are a few lesser-known facts from that 1967 story:

Dr. Seuss wasn’t necessarily for kids.
The career-making images that TIME cited? An advertising campaign for Flit insecticide.

Dr. Seuss’s wife helped him develop his stories.
Their marriage was financed, TIME reported, by a “cartoon of egg-nog-drinking turtles” that Dr. Seuss sold to Judge magazine in 1927. (Sadly, she died only a few months after that 1967 profile was published.)

Dr. Seuss had no formal art training.
He walked out on “a high-school art teacher who refused to let him draw with his drawing board turned upside down” and that was that. For non-art education, he went to Dartmouth and Oxford.

Dr. Seuss’s early vocabulary was inspired by school curricula.
Many books meant to teach kids reading used standardized lists of basic words that should be known by students of various ages, and Dr. Seuss’ work — despite the fantastical nature of the stories those words created — was no exception. He stopped using the lists when he no longer found them adequate, “because,” TIME explained, “today’s television-viewing children have an expanded vocabulary.”

Dr. Seuss worked on an Oscar-winning animated short film.
Dr. Seuss’s Gerald McBoing-Boing cartoon won the Academy Award in 1951. You can watch it here:

Read the full 1967 profile of Dr. Seuss here, in TIME’s archives: The Logical Insanity of Dr. Seuss

TIME Books

2 Americans on Man Booker Prize 2014 Shortlist

Author Karen Joy Fowler - Portrait Session
US Author Karen Joy Fowler David Levenson—Getty Images

Joshua Ferris and Karen Fowler are in the running for one of the U.K.'s most prestigious literary prizes

Two Americans are among the six authors on this year’s shortlist for the Man Booker Prize, the United Kingdom’s best known and most prestigious literary prize.

Karen Fowler is in the running for the Pen/Faulkner Award-winning novel We are all Completely Besides Ourselves, about a young woman raised with a chimpanzee for a sister. Also up for consideration is Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, the tale of a New York dentist who finds his identity has been stolen.

Novels by U.S. writers will compete with The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Australian author Richard Flanagan, and three books by British writers: The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee, How to be Both by Ali Smith, and J by past Booker winner Howard Jacobson.

This is the first time that novels by writers from outside of the Commonwealth have been eligible for the $85,000 award. The winner will be announced Oct. 14.

TIME Books

How a Baby Changed William and Harry’s Royal Relationship

With a second child on the way for Prince William, a new book reports that the arrival of Prince George calmed William and his brother Harry's raging social life

With the news that the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, is pregnant with a second royal baby, a new biography of Prince Harry sheds light on the evolution of his relationship with his older brother, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, since the birth of Prince George last July.

“It’s fantastic to have an addition to the family,” Harry said about his nephew, as royal-family biographer Penny Junor writes in Prince Harry: Brother, Soldier, Son. “I only hope my brother knows how expensive my baby-sitting charges are.”

And if Will’s change in behavior since George’s birth is any indication, the birth of his second child will likely mean Will and Harry will spend less time playing around with friends at clubs and more time playing with babies. Junor writes in Prince Harry:

William’s focus has changed. He is no longer in the military, no longer up for partying till dawn, or tripping over guy-ropes in the early hours at Glastonbury. He is more interested in getting an unbroken night of sleep and listening to George’s growing vocabulary.

The biography quotes “a friend” adding that Prince Harry “loves” having dinner with Will, Kate and George and says that’s basically what the brothers’ nights out are like now, even though Harry does not appear to show signs of settling down himself anytime soon.

It would be a different night from the one they would have spent three or four years ago, which would have been, ‘Who can remain standing longest?’ … They are very, very close and Harry loves the whole domestic bit which his brother’s doing now … I think he sees what his brother’s getting out of it …

The book will be released tomorrow, ahead of Prince Harry’s 30th birthday next week.

TIME Books

Jack the Ripper Was a Polish Barber, Says Amateur Sleuth

Thank goodness for the police officer who thought a murdered woman's blood-soaked shawl was a good gift for his wife. And thank goodness for the wife, who thought it really wasn't

Jack the Ripper was a young Polish immigrant who cut hair when he was not cutting up bodies, according to a new book. The author names the serial killer through DNA evidence recovered on a shawl picked up at a crime scene 126 years ago.

Aaron Kosminski, a 23-year-old barber at the time of the murders, and a longtime popular suspect in the unsolved case, was “definitely, categorically and absolutely” Jack the Ripper, the sadist who butchered at least five women in London’s East End in 1888, says author Russell Edwards, who calls himself “an armchair detective.”

“I’ve got the only piece of forensic evidence in the whole history of the case,” Edwards told the U.K.’s Press Association. “Only nonbelievers that want to perpetuate the myth will doubt. This is it now — we have unmasked him.”

Edwards’ book, Naming Jack the Ripper, will be published in the U.K. this week. His Sweeney Todd–style findings have not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and his conviction that Kosminski was the killer is matched only by the conviction of scores of other sleuths.

The streets of London’s impoverished East End were already bad enough when, on an August night in 1888, prostitute Mary Ann Nichols was found dead on one, her abdomen slit open. Over the next 12 weeks, someone would kill four more local demimondaines in the same grotesque manner — slicing their bellies, pulling out their organs and leaving their bodies in the streets for apparent public viewing. London was petrified, and it was transfixed: so much gore, with a compelling glimmer of sex and rage.

None of the murders were ever solved, but authorities pinned them all on one hand and called the serial killer “Jack the Ripper,” after the signature on a September 1888 letter — albeit perhaps a fake — sent to London police.

Edwards says that he fingered Kosminski through a shawl bought at a 2007 auction. A letter sold with the item said that a local policeman had picked it up from the scene of Catherine Eddowes’ murder — the Ripper’s fourth victim — and had presented it to his wife. However, she was understandably perturbed by the grisly gift and never wore it, instead packing up the blood-splattered rag in storage, the letter said.

Edwards, teaming up with molecular biologist Jari Louhelainen, then contacted living descendants of both Eddowes and Kosminski and matched their DNA with samples on the shawl.

“Thank God the shawl has never been washed, as it held the vital evidence,” added Edwards.

Kosminski was a Polish-Jewish immigrant who fled persecution under imperial Russia and arrived in London in 1881. The barber was admitted, penniless, to a workhouse in 1889 and then to an asylum, where he died in 1899 of gangrene.

London authorities at first wondered if Jack the Ripper was a butcher, or maybe a physician. Later, local officials said he was not a skilled executioner at all, but a messy one. Theorists have also accused — in the court of public opinion and in the market of book deals — a cat-meat salesman, a schoolteacher and a South African pimp, among lots, and lots, of others.

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