Marciano (Casa Rossa, 2002, etc.) explores the fractured political landscape of contemporary war-torn Kabul.
Two women—Maria Galante, a photographer and also the narrator, and Imo Glass, a freelance writer—go on a mission to Afghanistan to chronicle one of the unforeseen consequences of war: women who are forced into marriages and who have dealt with this social tradition by attempting to kill themselves by self-immolation. Imo is an experienced and rather cynical observer of the human condition, while Maria has recently been spending her time doing artistic renditions of asparagus quiche for glossy magazines; however, she’s sucked into the maelstrom of a country with a terrible beauty but also with unimaginable social issues. The first third of the novel follows Maria as she takes a training course to help her deal with eventualities she might have to face during her visit to Kabul. She must, for example, learn survival skills to help her deal with the possibility of being kidnapped. After this bracing plunge into political reality, she and Imo find themselves in Kabul, assisted by their driver (and sometime translator) Hanif, a gentle man who’s simply trying to stay alive and make ends meet while his pregnant wife prepares to give birth. Imo is at first the hard-as-nails reporter willing to go to any length to get her story, while Maria is more timid and dewy-eyed. After a disquieting journey to the fierce countryside outside of Kabul, however, both women get into a frightening situation that threatens to spin out of control. This allows Maria to show her strength while Imo is reduced to whimpering, her toughness shown to be a mask covering a more vulnerable self. Toward the end of the novel Maria is told her story needs “a strong image of a suffering, beautiful woman,” and ironically the only image Maria is able to produce is of Hanif’s dying wife.
A novel at once both sensuous and terrifying.