It took me the longest time to post on this one - "The Book of Trouble" by Ann Marlowe. I can't think of a better reason for this other than the fact that I couldn't quite come to terms with the social conflicts as presented by Marlowe. She candidly states her stance in the prologue itself saying, " I don't want to have a relationship, much less a committed relationship. I want to meet someone and fall in love and live with him for the rest of my life." Yet the falling in love she captures in the book is jinxed from the word go. What is even stranger, Ms. Marlowe is aware of the tentative nature of her relationship, yet, she spends the next hundred some pages justifying this tentativeness!
Ann Marlowe, a widely traveled journalist with stellar academic credentials, appears to have written this book either when she was on a sentimental high, or else she was brooding on the boredom of single living as a forty year old American woman. It could also be that her extended stay in and around Afghanistan had impacted her deeply, and Afghanistan's exotic culture still had her in its grip.
The book shifts between Afghanistan and the USA and is ridden with conflicts of gender, age, ethnicity, traditions and religion, mostly within the realm of romance. Ms. Marlowe, who is at the center of it all, is constantly debating her stand on these conflicts, trying to assess the conflicts the Afghan way and then looks at them the American way. There are weak attempts at defending the American lifestyle and how it deals with these issues, but somehow Ms. Marlowe always appears to have an Afghan bias, to the point that she defends machismo saying it lets the man be chivalrous, a trait apparently the average American woman of today misses. On the same note, Marlowe even lends credence to arranged marriages and the covering of the female face with a 'chadar'. The examples and statistic for both of which are questionable. What is more, this memoir of Marlowe's has her, a Jewish woman in her 40s, in love with an Afghan man at least 10 years younger than her, and one who tells her outright, "The Western idea of romantic love is an illusion. I don't believe in it. I want to have an arranged marriage. I want to marry an Afghan girl. A seventeen-year-old virgin." This is where one wonders, "What was Marlowe thinking!" Was this the falling in love she was referring to in the prologue? As for the book being 'a Romance', well, it is one that has 'trouble' written all over it! "The Book of Trouble" is the memoir of a delusional 40 year old who so desperately wants to experience 'love' with a difference, that she willingly suspends disbelief and involves herself in an affair that clearly has no future from the onset.
However, there is a softer and saner side to the memoir as Marlowe unfolds to the reader an Afghanistan that is simple and very understandable. She takes us into the inner folds of family life in Afghanistan, and it is a most endearing picture that she reveals; one which could make an American reader like me uncomfortable. The simplicity of interaction within Afghan families makes that society very appealing to an American who has long lived in an individualistic society. Belonging to a tight knit Afghan group, in this case an extended family, eases the burdens that come with individualistic living where you are accountable for every action of yours. Marlowe has undoubtedly seen Afghanistan very closely and does its people and its culture justice, in that she is very accepting of differences, analyzes them impartially, and partakes of them with appreciation and gratitude. The Bush administration ought to have had her as an adviser before they went there to bring democracy to this 'third world nation'!
"The Book of Troubles' is an apt title for this memoir since I too am 'troubled' writing a recommendation for this book. Would I suggest you read it? Given that I've called Ms. Marlowe, the protagonist of this memoir, delusional, it would almost seem absurd for me to recommend it. However, this is also the book that I could hardly put down once I began reading it! So I suggest you delve into this 'troubled book' and see whether 'the troubles' were worth your read.
Thanks Saadia for recommending the book!