The Book of Trouble: A Romance

The Book of Trouble: A Romance

by Ann Marlowe
     
 

A sexy, intimate and fearless account of a shattering love affair between a charistmatic Afghan man and a Jewish American writer infatuated with his culture, The Book of Trouble is also a provocative and original exploration of the so-called "clash of civilizations." Marlowe's vivid, gritty evocation of daily life in Afghanistan brings to life a luminous place she

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Overview

A sexy, intimate and fearless account of a shattering love affair between a charistmatic Afghan man and a Jewish American writer infatuated with his culture, The Book of Trouble is also a provocative and original exploration of the so-called "clash of civilizations." Marlowe's vivid, gritty evocation of daily life in Afghanistan brings to life a luminous place she thinks of as "the morning of the world". She finds a similar re-discovery of feeling when she is in bed with Amir, "the gift of loving someone, which is incalculable"—but also, ultimately, a"terrible gap between hearts."

Marlowe finds complexity and beauty in Afghanistan, not the caricature of evil men and oppressed women. In fact, she found much that Americans can learn from in the warmth, tenderness and respect of Afghan family life and marriage. As Marlowe travels from Mazar-i-Sherif to her sophisticated, cynical New York world and then to Baghdad in the aftermath of the American invasion, she makes perhaps her most provocative claim: that we Americans, for all our self-help books, have forgotten how to take love and sex seriously.

A candid, wrenching love letter to the world of feelings we have lost, The Book of Trouble is unique and unforgettable.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR ANN MARLOWE'S HOW TO STOP TIME

"Ann Marlowe is . . . a relentless moral essayist and a secret poet."—Luc Sante

"With fierce clarity and an unflinching grasp of paradox, Ann Marlowe sets a new standard for bullshit detection."—Jonathan Lethem

The New Yorker
“I want to have an arranged marriage,” Amir, a Princeton-educated Afghan émigré announces at a dinner party at Marlowe’s West Village apartment. And then, over risotto with fall vegetables, he tells the other guests what he wants: “A seventeen-year-old virgin.” They are horrified, especially when, a couple of months later, Marlowe begins an affair with him. Marlowe’s second memoir—the first was about her time as a heroin user—candidly recounts her fascination with Afghanistan and the hungry, hopeless, clumsy progress of the affair. At times, her fetishizing of Amir’s rugged build and exotic heritage inclines one to sympathy with her disapproving friends, but her sharp intellect rescues this faltering romantic narrative, and she provides an incisive and refreshing comparison of Afghan and Western social mores.
Publishers Weekly
Before Afghanistan became front-page news and then a travel destination for adventurers, Marlowe (How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z) "dreamed about going there." After missing the chance as a 20-year-old exploring Europe (she got as close as Istanbul), she had to wait 25 years. During that time, the author, a writer and legal headhunter, bought a Manhattan townhouse, traveled to other Third World countries, survived heroin addiction and enjoyed a lively sex life as a single woman. She finally trekked to Afghanistan in 2002, where she found the "kindness and tenderness" she lacked in New York and, although she's Jewish, felt "more at home than I had in Israel, and more loved." The book's subtitle refers to the author's failed affair with an Afghan man 10 years her junior, but the memoir is equally a valentine for the Islamic world. Marlowe meets Amir, a Muslim engineer, shortly before her second trip to Afghanistan; between chapters about her passionate times with him, she writes fondly about her host family in the northern city of Mazar, where she teaches English. Though a graceful writer, Marlowe has trouble integrating the stories of her two passions. Still, her honest meditations on love and family make this a satisfying read. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A 44-year-old Jewish New York woman meets a 34-year-old Afghan man. From the very first page of this latest memoir from writer and critic Marlowe (How To Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z)-"when we stopped making love on the living room couch"-readers know they are in for a passionate ride that has everything to do with the main players' distinct ethnic and national identities. Much of the book, in which Marlowe chronicles her affair with Amir, a Muslim engineer, takes place during various trips abroad, and much of it takes place in bed. A little too detailed and slightly too long, this memoir and cultural critique rolled into one doesn't always work. Topical and provocative (though at times rambling), it is a good purchase for medium- and large-sized public libraries.-Terren Ilana Wein, Univ. of Chicago Divinity Sch. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another memoir, an account of her "love affair with the Third World," from the author of How to Stop Time (1999). Marlowe, a product of the American middle class, is sensitive to the inequities of this relationship. As she shares scenes from two trips to Afghanistan made in 2002, she proves herself to be a passionate correspondent. Like her first book, this one is written in short, incisive, elegantly composed paragraphs. Her descriptions of Afghanistan are informative and often poetic. While in the Middle East, she's thinking about love-manifest in family, romance and erotic experience-and she looks for it everywhere she goes. She finds some version of it in an Afghan named Amir, with whom she has an affair. This young man is Marlowe's true subject, and her capacity to think and write about anything else is eventually overcome by her feelings for him. Even when she's talking to controversial Iraqi official Ahmed Chalabi, she's thinking about Amir, and neither she nor her narrative are the better for it. Considered solely on the base of his behavior, Amir is a jerk. Marlowe's fascination is inexplicable and frustrating. She musters a lot of anthropology to explain cross-cultural, intergenerational (he's significantly younger than her) love. She uses their sexual ardor as an occasion to philosophize about the demise of physical passion in the West, and she contrasts her own feverish devotion with the calculation she sees in New York's dating scene, but Marlowe never quite manages to explicate the specific allure of Amir. While her skills as a reporter are significant, the author is much less impressive as a philosopher. A critique of contemporary love that expands little on the viewsexpressed in women's magazines and self-help bestsellers.
Los Angeles Times
A detailed and inspiring portrait of family life in [Afghanistan] . . . Throughout, [Marlowe's] intellectual intensity and unusual emotional wiring combine to generate pretty interesting positions.

Edmund White
"The Book of Trouble is about a difficult love affair across an age and cultural divide, but it transcends its circumstances to become an eloquent meditation on marriage, freedom, religion andgender. Ann Marlowe feels a lot, but her feelings are always nuanced and contradictory; her book is an unusually rich reading of her emotional and intellectual conflicts

Gary Shteyngart
"Ann Marlowe has a sense of adventure, style and a startling intelligence that makes The Book of Trouble a must-read. Whether she's writing about Iraq, Afghanistan, or the West Village, and whether you agree with her conclusions or not, her opinions are always fresh, nuanced, and thoroughly her own."

James Frey
"You won't soon forget The Book of Trouble. Ann Marlowe tells a crushing love story, and somehow also manages to weave in exotic tales of travel and fascinating tangents about everything from cousin marriage to fake Arabic."

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780151011315
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
02/01/2006
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

I’d gone out of my way to avoid thinking of Amir sexually from the moment I met him, eight months before, in early June of 2002.
 
It was at a party, and I was reeling from my reentry to American life after my first trip to Afghanistan. Normally I love parties, but that night I found the effort to make small talk exhausting. I told the host that I was leaving, although it was barely midnight.
 
“Wait, you should meet Amir; he’s from Afghanistan. Meet Ann, she just got back from Mazar-i-Sharif last week.”
 
A powerfully built man with thick black hair, a hooked nose, and skin the same olive tone as mine was leaning against the kitchen counter that doubled as the bar. He looked to be in his late thirties, maybe older. His clothes couldn’t have been more ordinary, a blue striped Brooks Brothers shirt and blue blazer over chinos. There was something a little rumpled about him that reminded me of the prep school boys at Harvard who wore the same white shirt and blazer they’d had to wear in boarding school, but with a defiant déshabillé. You were to know they’d gone to an elite school but had become too cool for all that. That effect would have been completed with a battered pair of Top-Siders. But this man had light tan loafers of cheap-looking leather. Immigrant shoes, living-in-Queens shoes.
 
Amir’s slouch, though, was challenging, even arrogant, in a familiar American way. It was nothing like the body language of the men I’d met in Afghanistan a couple of weeks before. They had confounded my expectations of stereotypical mountain warriors, proverbial “fierce Afghans”; they were quieter and gentler than Americans, their voices softer, their way of holding themselves dignified but never aggressive.
 
From the start, I responded to Amir differently than I would have to a Western man. I’d taken the warnings of my friends with more experience in Afghanistan to heart: no body language that could be construed as flirtation, and never offer more physical contact than shaking a man’s hand on greeting and leave-taking.
 
So I said hello to Amir stiffly in Dari: Sh’ma khub asteed?
 
Amir broke into a smile. Lots of Americans had been going to Afghanistan lately—it was all too fashionable—but few bothered to learn Afghan Persian, or Dari.
 
Judging my abilities correctly—I’d only been studying for a month—he answered in English, I’m fine, how are you?
 
There might have been a note of mild parody in his reply. I laughed, and he continued, What were you doing in Mazar?
 
A friend of mine is friends with General Dostum from the early nineties. After the Taliban fell, he wanted to go back, and he took me and another American woman with him.
 
Dostum is a controversial figure, the unelected ruler of a good chunk of northern Afghanistan. American newspapers call him a warlord, but his forces were key in defeating the Taliban; and he supports women’s education and voting rights.
 
Amir’s warm brown eyes narrowed. He should be tried as a war criminal, he said.
 
I remembered my dinners at Dostum’s table and how his obsidian eyes had gradually opened as he grew comfortable with my presence one night. I watched as an Afghan woman argued fiercely with him and was amazed at his patience. I would never have been the guest of a politician I thought was a war criminal, though I knew that Dostum, like the late Ahmed Shah Massoud, bore some responsibility for the destruction of Kabul in the early nineties.
 
That’s ridiculous. No politician’s hands in Afghanistan are clean, but . . .
 
And I argued with Amir. Soon I heard myself getting too heated. Afghanistan was not my country, and it was Amir’s. I am known for not backing down from a disagreement, but this time I decided to avoid a full-on confrontation. I told Amir I had to leave.
 
And then I did something else I rarely did with a man. I asked for Amir’s card. I did it because I wasn’t attracted to him, because my interest was purely in the Afghan connection, or so I would have said. Anything or anyone having to do with Afghanistan was fascinating to me in the full flush of my infatuation with the country.
 
I read the name of the consulting firm on the card. I know your firm! I worked at your main competition twenty years ago. (What a hell job that had been.) Do you like it?
 
I’m an engineer. (Maybe that explained the shoes.) They have me doing pretty specialized assignments. It’s fine, I don’t have to travel that much. Are you still in consulting?
 
I’m a writer. I’ve published a book, and I write book reviews, pieces on politics. I did a New York Post op-ed about my trip. But I make my living in business. I’m a headhunter for tax and pension lawyers—it’s an odd little niche. Listen, I’d like to talk more, but I’m still jet-lagged. It was nice to meet you, Amir.
 
The next day, I carefully entered Amir’s information in my computer so I could get in touch with him before my next trip to Afghanistan. I didn’t like his politics, but even so I had fun talking with him. Maybe it was that I’ve never met an Afghan who spoke such good English or seemed so westernized. Even the returned Afghan American exiles I’d met in Afghanistan had more rough edges—endearing rough edges to be sure, but qualities in their speech and dress and manner that made me think they’d be out of place in my social life. No matter how aristocratic their families were in Afghanistan, in America they registered as immigranty.
 
Four months later, in October, I arranged to go back to Afghanistan for four weekes. This time I was going to teach English at the university and buy supplies for some of the pitiful primary schools I visited the first time around. I also wanted to broaden my exposure beyond Dostum’s circle and region. So I e-mailed Amir and invited him to talk about Afghanistan over coffee; I promised not to become too vehement. His response was eager and friendly—maybe he’d forgotten our spat. Something made me suggest that he come to my house for a coffee, but I picked a day when my housekeeper would be there. From my experience in Afghanistan, I figured that Amir might be uncomfortable being alone with a woman, or assume that I meant to seduce him. I dressed conservatively and didn’t offer him alcohol.
 
Sitting on my living-room couch and sipping the water he’d asked for, Amir told me about himself. His family were well-connected Pashtun landowners from the mixed Pashtun and Tajik area near Herat. That made Amir the first Pashtun I’d met; the region I’d visited around Mazar was largely Uzbek. In the news coverage of the war against the Taliban I was taken with the beauty of the bearded Pashtun tribesmen, but I also absorbed some of the liberal American prejudice against this ethnic group, who’d provided the power base for the Taliban. They had a reputation as socially conservative, headstrong, and warlike. They were towelheads who toted guns and oppressed their women. Yet Amir had gone to Princeton, I learned, and seemed the soul of reason.
 
Anger crept into his voice only when he talked about how he’d been trying to return to Afghanistan ever since the fall of the Taliban.
 
I keep waiting and waiting for my green card. I’d like to go for a long trip. Maybe I’ll work for the government. They can use American-trained engineers. I haven’t been back since we fled to Pakistan in 1982, when I was fourteen.
 
So you’re thirty-four? I tried to keep the surprise from my voice. He looked years older, and I liked that. He had some character to his face. At my age I was unable to see anything but generic youth in many thirty-four-year-old faces.
 
E: 14pt; FONT-FAMILY: 'Times New Roman'; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt"Yeah, I’m old to be an associate. I went to grad school for a year in Houston, then I started a company with one of my cousins there, but it didn’t go very well. Dot-com. I thought I was going to be a millionaire, but we got caught in the dot-com bust. After that, I took the first good job I was offered in New York and moved to Brooklyn. I was lucky to get hired before 9/11.
 
I looked at the clock and realized I had to leave for a friend’s reading. Somehow an hour and a half had gone by, and we’d never even talked politics. We’d have to do something about that. But when Amir returned a few days later (this time without the housekeeper present), we never got to politics. In fact, after he left I couldn’t remember much of what we talked about at all—only a sense of pleasure.
 
Copyright © 2006 by Ann Marlowe
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
 
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

 
 
 

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