In this very revealing book, McCord (not her real name) has woven her experiences and those of others into a novel about a young woman working for an NGO in Afghanistan. Marie is the main character, a single young woman working in a woman's literacy project.
Our first view of her work is in getting all of the stamps and signatures needed for the government's approval of the latest project. That gives us some insight into the whole governmental system of the country.
Marie travels to a village to meet with the literate woman and set of a classroom. Materials are provided and Marie oversees the work. In the course of Marie's visits, we readers find out more about the village and the power structure of the people there. We learn of deep seated animosity between some people groups or some families.
Two aspects of the work in Afghanistan come across very clearly. One is the danger from external forces, such as tribal rivalry. One family might cause an explosion at the wedding celebration of a hated family. A western woman might be gunned down in the street. Western workers might be kidnapped for ransom. You might be awakened in the night, windows shattering from the shelling of a nearby building.
The other danger comes from within. Marie had been working in Afghanistan for years and had already seen one person leave who was supposed to be working with her for some time. Now a relatively newcomer was planning to leave. Through Marie's journal entries and thoughts, we find out the toll it takes on Marie's faith and mental stability.
This is an enlightening book. As we follow Marie in her work, we get glances of the local people, their thoughts, traditions, and how they treat westerners. Marie is a Christian and it was interesting to see how she let Muslims know of her belief. We also see how careful those over Marie wanted her to be, especially when she visited villages.
I had a little trouble with the writing style of this novel. The sentences were often stilted or seemed disconnected. I had trouble liking the character of Marie. We read many of her thoughts. They seemed to jump around a great deal. Also, Marie was a little arrogant, frequently questioning the directions of those over her. I just did not see her as a likable character. Part of that might be her disillusionment. Marie had come into Afghanistan with high ideals, with a certain attitude. She left with a much more realistic attitude. I also felt like I was reading a sequel. Marie had been at her work for years and I felt like I was only reading the tail end of a longer story.
If you are looking for a fast moving novel, one with lots of action, this is not it. If you are looking for a novel that is character driven, it is not that either. If you want to learn what it was like for a young woman to work in Afghanistan, this one will do that for you.
Kate McCord is not the author's real name. To protect those she worked with, all names have been changed. In the midst of a high powered career, Kate sold everything and left for Afghanistan to start a non-governmental organization with the goal of aiding Afghan women. She worked in Afghanistan for five years.
River North (Moody Press), 368 pages.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.