Two women from different cultures collide in American-occupied Afghanistan in 2002.
Farida Basra doesn’t want to marry Gul, an uneducated Afghan man her father has selected for her. She doesn’t want to adapt to his family’s traditional way of life, and she especially doesn’t want to move from her native Pakistan to Kabul, where Gul and his family see opportunity in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. But soon enough, she finds herself adjusting to her new life and finding not only passion with Gul, but also a shared enemy in the Americans who have invaded their city. One of those Americans is Liv Stoellner, an NGO worker married to a professor who specializes in Afghanistan. Liv’s marriage to the chronically unfaithful Martin begins to crumble when they move from their comfortable American college town to Kabul: While Liv throws herself into her work interviewing local women for Face the Future, Martin hides in his office writing reports that yield no results and lusting after Farida, who happens to be acting as Liv’s translator at her father-in-law’s behest. But Farida—and her family—is planning more than just translation. Florio, a white journalist who has reported in Afghanistan, has previously published a series of autobiographical mystery novels (Under the Shadows, 2018, etc.). This foray into literary fiction is well-meaning but misguided. Despite Florio’s evident familiarity with the novel’s setting, the Middle Eastern characters remain flimsy archetypes. Farida’s initial horror at her arranged marriage vanishes almost immediately, while Gul’s initial expressions of misogyny conveniently fade. Gul’s family is similarly two-dimensional, and the white American characters hardly fare better: Martin is cartoonishly boorish, and Liv’s persistent cluelessness is grating. The plot, meanwhile, is convoluted and frustrating: Face the Future is clearly tied to the U.S. government in some way, for instance, but this connection is never fully explored. The novel purports to explore the ethical quagmire of America’s occupation of Afghanistan, but with characters so limited, it can barely scratch the surface.
A well-intentioned but ultimately unsuccessful portrait of women in wartime Afghanistan.