There are many words to describe this novel: poignant, charming, sad, original, thought-provoking. It certainly is all of these things.
Its setting is quite different from anything I’ve read before and in a culture worlds away from my own.
Miriam is a young woman who leaves her native Scotland for married life in Afghanistan. After her husband’s (Jawad) tragic death and with a young son to look after, she marries her second husband, Iqbal. Jawad’s memory and Iqbal’s own inner conflict rock her marriage from its foundations, and Miriam has to fight to save it.
Whilst I can’t imagine why Miriam would abandon her modern life in Scotland for one of such primitiveness in an Afghan village is beyond me (even for love). It’s a very stark contrast, but that in itself is what makes Miriam such a strong character. Despite the cultural differences, despite the death of her first husband, despite the Islamic constraints, despite the attitude towards women, despite her second husband’s own troubles, she is resolute and determined to make her life and her commitment to her new surroundings work. I like her persistence and her honesty.
The 1990s Afghan conflict is stranded through the story, and Afghan life and culture brought vividly to our attention. I concluded that it’s really not very desirable: I’m quite happy with my own flushing toilets, running water, and my own bedroom, thank you. BUT, if it as bleak as the author portrays, it was an interesting, if somewhat distressing, insight.
Although I would have preferred a slightly more assertive ending, I enjoyed this unusual story. I would also have liked to read this after some professional editing to trim some frayed edges. Despite that, it’s a recommended read.