What do you think of when I say “Western woman gets romantically involved with Middle Eastern Muslim man”? A Lifetime movie of the week, maybe, featuring all the usual clichés? Tyrannical, sexist and abusive male whisks unsuspecting American female off to some wretched foreign country, forces her into hijab, brainwashes her children, and so forth, and so on. Not without my daughter! she cries. And all us westerners are all left feeling a little bit self-righteous and superior because, as everyone knows, no sexism over here.
I’m not being dismissive anyone’s terrible experience but certain stereotypes are numerous in western literature and film. I half-expected more of the same from Ann Marlowe’s memoir of her love affair with an Afghan man, The Book of Trouble, but was pleasantly surprised to find instead a book of intelligence, passion, introspection, and yes, trouble.
When the Jewish-American Ann first meets Amir, he announces during the course of their conversation, “I want to marry an Afghan girl; a seventeen-year-old virgin.” Despite the fact that she’s in her mid-forties, and most definitely not virginal, Ann begins an affair with Amir, knowing from the start that it is doomed to end.
In The Book of Trouble Ann recounts her torrid but often turbulent affair with Amir, their marathon lovemaking, their erratic conversations, their difficult dates, their best moments, and their worst. Especially fascinating was Ann’s trip to Afghanistan, where she lived, worked and traveled with an Afghan family. Her account of her experiences there challenged many of my assumptions about Afghan culture and left me a bit more educated.
But the author is at her most interesting when she deviates from the narrative to ponder such subjects as food, family, religion, sex, sexism and especially love. Are men truly emotionally disabled, she asks, or is their modern lack of intimacy a reaction to modern changes in the structure of relationships? Are westerners too busy “managing relationships” to fall in love? Does the western world take love, and making love, seriously any more?
Ms Marlowe writes with the clarity of an intellectual and ardor of a woman in love. With a courageous and contemplative honesty, she examines own past, her own assumptions and attitudes, her own cultural inheritance and weaves her discoveries with her tale of romance, her Book of Trouble.