An impressive first by a Hollywood insider (the wife of director Ron Howard) explores the deeply hostile reception two American sisters receive when they penetrate the tightly patriarchal society of Muslim culture.
Accustomed, in the 1990s, to traveling periodically to India and northern areas of Kashmir to dicker with Muslim merchants for the best deals on merchandise for their growing California import-export company, Christine and Liz Shepherd don’t often feel intimidated moving among exotic cultures. Their American citizenship and dollars protect them, until Liz, the elder, and her driver venture out alone for one last buying stop at the small Hindu village of Padamthala, which is subsequently bombed by the Sunni Muslim terrorist group led by the fanatic Farrukh Ahmed—and Liz is missing or presumed dead. Christine, whose father, long deceased, was a chemical engineer who taught her to shoot a gun, sets out on a harebrained scheme to find her sister, coached via cell phone by her father’s best friend and special agent to the FBI, Cloid Dale. Alarmed by hints of a “flesh trade,” Christine accepts the escort of a low-level Indian government employee, Nikhil, who ends up raping her in the desert and triggering a landmine; she takes refuge with a sympathetic Pakistani family, the Javids, who agree, against their better judgment, to drive her into the larger town of Peshawar: Christine is resolved to find the notorious terrorist and reclaim her sister, despite the increasingly hateful treatment she receives at the hands of the men. Howard Crew’s narrative erupts in violence at every stage of Christine’s journey, from rape to gun smuggling to bloody ambushes by vengeful tribes. The plausibility of her story relies on the generous personal detail the author brings to the landscape and characters, and especially to the ancient family customs and protocol of the people Christine encounters along the way.
Winning and intensely moving, if wildly, romantically far-fetched.