Saturday, 13 February 2010

No More Mulberries by Mary Smith

No More MulberriesI am so glad I read this book. Knowing little about Afghanistan, whether before or after the Taliban, mention of the country usually means war and repression as portrayed by the media.

No More Mulberries, however, is an exceptional novel. Set during 1995, this is a story of some of the ordinary people living in the rural areas of Afghanistan. It is also the story of Scottish health worker, Miriam, who adopts the country as her own after marriage.

Miriam’s story begins, as any good novel should, at a moment of crisis, when her second marriage, to Dr Iqbal, is put under increasing strain, while Miriam has yet to confront the ghosts of her past and the death of her beloved first husband. In the midst of her personal concerns is the struggle to bring modern health practises and teaching to the remote mountain villages. Dr Iqbal has his own ghosts to confront if he and Miriam are to stay together.

Only someone with intimate knowledge of the area and the people could write with such honesty and authority. Mary Smith worked for many years in Afghanistan and has evoked the sights, smells and culture of the country so well that I was living every moment of the novel in that fascinating and ruggedly beautiful land.

The author is a professional journalist and the story is very well written and carefully structured, allowing the reader glimpses into Miriam’s Scottish past, while exploring her two Afghan marriages and the cultural differences she now faces as a woman. Smith explains part of her motivation for the novel: “I particularly wanted to counteract the western media's portrayal of life for Afghan women. I don't deny there are huge problems there, but to give the impression that all Afghan women are hapless, downtrodden victims does them a disservice - they deserve more.”

The novel ends as the Taliban are becoming a real threat to the country, and it is testament to the author’s storytelling ability that I was fearful for all the people I had met through the pages of the novel.

This book deserves to be read widely, if for no other reason than to enjoy a good story. But it also brings the ordinary people of a war-torn country to life and perhaps offers some understanding of their plight.

Mary Smith is also author of the non-fiction book Before the Taliban: Living with War, Hoping for Peace. Visit her website for more details of the author and her writing.


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