The End of Manners

The End of Manners

by Francesca Marciano

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307386748
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/05/2009
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.56(d)

About the Author

Francesca Marciano is the author of two previous novels and several screenplays, including Don't Tell, which was nominated in 2005 for an Academy Award in the category of Best Foreign-Language Film. She lives in Rome.


From the Hardcover edition.

Read an Excerpt

“They won’t let us inside till the very last minute and it must be at least ten below out here . . .”

We were all standing perfectly still, under the flurries of snow. Out in the open, holding on to our luggage in front of the airport building, staring at the only being moving in this frozen scene. Imo Glass, of course. Measuring the parking lot in long strides, eyes to the ground. Shouting into her cell.

“What did you say? . . .”

She laughed and threw her head back to reveal her throat, drawing her Pakistani wool shawl tighter around her shoulders.

“Oh. No, I haven’t got a clue. I guess it’s because of car bombs, kamikaze, you tell me.”

The Western passengers, stiffened by the cold despite their thick quilted jackets and woolen beanies, were staring at her, mesmerized, without much sympathy, at least it seemed to me. Perhaps they resented the way Imo was insisting on pacing back and forth in the snow shielded by only her thin shawl, jeans and a pair of flats despite the polar temperature. Or perhaps they were annoyed by the way she kept laughing at the jokes of the mysterious party on the other end, lacking entirely the same worried look as the rest of us.

The Afghan passengers—all men, and a minority among us—although covered just as lightly as she by their pattus were eyeing her with visible hostility as well. A woman yelling and laughing on the phone in front of everyone as if she were on a stage was not exactly their idea of modest behavior.

“The thing is, this morning I gave all my warmest clothes away . . . What? Can you hear me? . . . Yes, I gave them to the cleaning woman at the guesthouse and now I’m freezing to death. . . . Hello . . . can you hear me? CAN YOU HEAR ME?”

Hanif was eyeing her with concern. I looked at him as he did his little nod and smile thing; he did it in that automatic way of his, as if to reassure me that everything was okay, but I could tell he too was on edge.

“. . . She only had this thin thin sweater on and plastic babouches, so I gave her my coat, my boots and my woolen socks too . . . What? . . . Demian? I’m losing you now . . . Demian? Can you hear me? Yeah, now I can hear you. What did you say? . . . No, I figured I wouldn’t need them anymore, I had no clue they’d leave us standing in the freezing cold for three hours!”


The minute she was done with the call, Imo snapped her phone shut and her features at once reset into that serious, vaguely imperious expression she habitually wore. She joined me in the crowd of numb-with-cold passengers.

“Fuck, I’m freezing my ass. Where’s Hanif?”

I pointed out Hanif a short distance away, busy greeting a tall man in a mud-colored uniform with a moustache à la Stalin. She tugged at his sleeve.

“Sorry, Hanif, but isn’t there any way of getting us inside? I’m freezing without my coat.”

Hanif nodded. He consulted with the uniformed moustache man in Dari with his most obsequious expression. The moustache nodded vigorously and yelled something to the soldiers manning the barrier, the one barring the way to the passengers still waiting to enter the building. There was a further exchange of pleasantries, introductions and hearty handshakes all round. The bar was raised and Imo Glass, Hanif and I, under the now openly hostile gaze of the fifty passengers sculpted in the freezing wind, were wheeled across the parking lot with our luggage in tow and marched inside the building. At the door there were more guards, fully armed. After a brief consultation and due recognition of Hanif, they let us enter.

Inside, the departure hall looked like the empty lobby of a spectral Soviet structure: no check-in counters, no airline signs, no heating. Just dark marble and lights switched off in the glacial chill. It felt more like a prison, or a gigantic empty freezer where you could hear the sound of your own footsteps.

“Excellent,” said Imo, with a relieved smile. “Let’s go upstairs to the restaurant. I read somewhere they do the most delicious pilau.”


Only three weeks ago, it was the middle of November, I was in the studio in Milan shooting a soufflé di zucca for the cover of La Cucina Italiana. The dish was beginning to look deflated and sad. Nori couldn’t get it glossy enough, neither with sprayed-on olive oil nor with glycerin. Dario tried to move the lights around to get better highlights, but the thing was looking pretty dead, visibly losing volume by the second. It was almost eight and we all wanted to go home, but we had to wait for the kitchen to make another soufflé. By then we knew there was no way of reviving the one we had. Food comes undone quickly under the lights.

Nori and Dario went out for a smoke and I turned on my cell just to give myself something to do. The photography studio was on the outskirts of the city, in a drab industrial area where there wasn’t even a decent café to hang out in. There were three messages from Pierre Le Clerc in London. The first said: “I’m looking for you, call me.” Then: “Where are you? It’s urgent.” Third message: “Call me at home, I need to talk to you by tonight.”

Pierre is my agent; he’s a lanky, attractive man with a leonine head of prematurely white hair who still retains a slight French accent. He moved to London a few years back because he felt “Paris was slowly dying, culturally speaking.” His agency, Focus101, soon attracted the best young photographers from differ- ent parts of the world. He offered to represent me when my picture of a ten-year-old Thai prostitute won a World Press Photo award in the Contemporary Issues category three years ago. With his handsome, angular face and the holes in his thick, worn-out sweaters that he sports with such casualness, he is a man I could’ve developed a crush on if only I’d given myself permission. I once had this childish fantasy of the two of us in a house in the south of France sipping a Châteauneuf-du-Pape in front of the fireplace with a couple of Labradors sprawled at our feet.


My name’s Maria, I’m thirty-two years old. I’m a redhead with gray eyes, a pasty, freckled complexion that doesn’t easily tan. I got my colors from my Irish mother. I’m thin, but not in the way models are thin. Clothes simply hang on me in a funny way, so I stick to the same outfit every day: black jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, a thick turtleneck in the winter and desert boots. I hold my hair up with chopsticks I steal from restaurants. I’ve been playing with the idea of getting a tattoo on my forearm of a black panther ready to pounce. I haven’t had the guts to go ahead with this project yet, partly because a panther has very little to do with my personality, partly because I’m scared of the pain.


As a student photographer I wanted to do portraits. Arbus was my idol. But I lacked her perversity. I was too shy. I possessed neither the authority nor the ability to make my subjects feel at ease. So I started with reportage work, trying to capture things as they were happening without having to stage them. Ironically I think I chose photojournalism out of convenience. I was hoping I could move around my subjects like an invisible eye and that it would be easier to disguise my discomfort.

I did stories on Albanian immigrants, AIDS victims in Africa, transsexuals in India, angry factory workers on strike, but it was a string of sad stories that made me feel like a thief, intruding on people’s grief, waiting like a vulture for the right second to click the shutter. I could never sleep the night before an assignment, I’d be so wound up.

Then, in the last couple of years, I started suffering from recurrent panic attacks and severe claustrophobia. It had to do more with personal issues than with stress from the shoots. A relationship had ended and a deep depression followed.

One day in the middle of a shoot—I was doing a story on the homeless people who lived inside the Milan railway station— I felt my throat tighten till I couldn’t breathe anymore. My assistant ended up having to call an ambulance. That was my final exit: wheeled out on a stretcher, rushed through the congested streets with wailing sirens. After that I stopped working for four months.

Pierre was very supportive, he said it was just a matter of starting again, that I needed to work to get out of my own head, but eventually he realized this was no joke. I think he knew there was no way he could count on me for a big assignment. He was the one to suggest I start back with commercial photography. At first I recoiled, thinking of Arbus and Avedon and the ambitions they had inspired. But the minute I switched to studio work and shot my first food photo—an asparagus quiche for Sale e Pepe—I had a revelation. I felt comfortable and secure within a contained space. I could tell things were going to be under control again.


Now I’ve come to love food as an object of art. Its aesthetic speaks to me. Often I have intense food dreams. I dream of white porcelain tubs overflowing with cherries as red as bloodstains; candid cakes swathed in icing as smooth as freshly fallen snow, covered in violet mounds of petals. The other day I dreamt of a huge pyramid of shiny yellow potatoes that looked like they were made of pure gold. The images are so clear, the colors so stark, that they wake me up in the middle of the night.


Things are much better now: I stopped taking antidepressants and I’ve been working for the food sections of several magazines based in Milan and London. I recently did a book on a Neapolitan chef for an American publisher and may do his next one too. In Milan I have two young assistants who do the lighting, and a food stylist, Nori, who finds inventive ways to re- suscitate wilting food by brushing it with clear nail polish or glycerin and can make any culinary creation stand at attention with complex toothpick arrangements. We spend days on end in front of pork roasts, orecchiette with broccoli, panna cottas, and we discuss texture, color, shape, ways to make something look crunchier, softer, crispier, moister. These are the kinds of problems I have to face. To solve them we have our tricks, which we keep to ourselves, like magicians.

Now all I do is point my lens at a risotto. The food does not talk back to me and it does not cry or yell, either. If I don’t like the way it looks, I throw it out and get the kitchen to make me another.

After the shoot for La Cucina Italiana at the magazine’s studio, I came home, ran a citrus-scented bath, lit a couple of candles and put on the Bach cello suites. I’m not sure where I borrowed this prefabricated idea of comfort—probably from some magazine—but it has become my ritual whenever I come home from a long shoot. There’s a new list of rules I never would have dreamt of following before—like taking a cold shower in the morning, eating complex carbs and proteins for breakfast, sleeping in flannel sheets, just to name a few—that I religiously observe. It’s like a script. It keeps me busy and I like the discipline.

I moved into this apartment on Via Settembrini only a year and half ago, after Carlo and I split up. It’s in an old neighborhood behind the Stazione Centrale, which everyone says is on the brink of becoming fashionable. I fell in love with the turn-of-the-century building with a carpentry and a blacksmith workshop, where they bang and drill and saw all day in a beautiful inner courtyard covered in ivy.

The place where Carlo and I lived together for six years was in the center of the city. I could have carried on living there after he left but it held too many memories. I couldn’t handle living in the same apartment minus his books, clothes, desk, sofa, paintings. It would be like living in a place filled with holes, empty walls and ghosts everywhere.

Actually it was my father who insisted it was time I bought my own place. I guess, having grown up during the war—and given his vivid literary imagination—he has an innate fear that I could end up homeless out on the streets like a poor orphan girl in a Victor Hugo novel.

It’s only a one-bedroom with a large living room, but it has a terrace; minuscule, but it looks out onto the roofs of Milan. The apartment is furnished with a Scandinavian touch that comes from Leo, my younger brother, a dealer in Danish furniture from the sixties. He travels back and forth between Milan and Copenhagen, constantly loading and unloading blond tables and chairs from his van. He’s convinced that Danish style is here to stay and is a good investment. In fact he’s done very well so far—much better than me. My father always trusted that my brother had a talent for living a maximum quality life with minimum effort.

No, he’s never projected his Victor Hugoesque fantasies on Leo.


From the Hardcover edition.

Reading Group Guide

“Marciano writes richly. . . . Transports the reader to a foreign world rendered with empathy.”
The Denver Post

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enliven your group's discussion of Francesca Marciano's The End of Manners. From the critically acclaimed author of Rules of the Wild, a thrilling, timely, and darkly funny story of friendship, human frailty, and war—and the role of outsiders in a country where they do not belong.

1. Imo Glass and Maria Galante come from different countries and different cultural backgrounds; they have very different personalities and deal with situations differently. But in the face of the obstacles they encounter in Afghanistan, their similarities become more apparent. Compare and contrast the women. How are they more alike than they first appear to be? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Whom do you relate to most?

2. Why does Marciano choose to begin The End of Manners at the point when Imo and Maria are trying to leave Afghanistan? How do you think that this sets up the rest of the action in the book? Does knowing that Maria goes to Afghanistan at the outset of the story change the way that you view her equivocations about taking the photography assignment?

3. Francesca Marciano is also a screenwriter. What cinematic techniques, if any, did you notice in the novel? If The End of Manners were made into a film, whom would you like to see play Maria and Imo? Maria and Imo experience some surprisingly funny moments in Afghanistan. How does humor help them cope with life in a war zone? What other fictional works insert dark comedy into the theater of war? Is it daring for an author to use comedy or irony to address a world at war?

4. Hostile environment training is mandated by the insurance company. Are the lessons the Defenders try to teach useful in the real-world situations the characters encounter in Afghanistan? Or is the training simply an example of bureaucratic red tape? How do you connect the second and third sections of the novel?

5. Marciano has said that she “wanted to investigate in the book the relationship between men and women during a war. How does danger affect the roles? What happens to women in a place where the men hold the guns and the power?” Do the interactions that take place between Maria and Imo and the men in Babur's Lodge, and the atmosphere at Babur's Lodge, succeed in doing this? How do the men and women in the novel experience war differently?

6. Maria and Imo experience some surprisingly funny moments in Afghanistan. How does humor help them cope with life in a war zone? What other fictional works insert dark comedy into the theater of war? Is it daring for an author to use comedy or irony to address a world at war?

7. Imo says, “This seems to be the place where all good manners have come to an end. And it's not a very good sign if you ask me. If there were any hope—if any of them actually believed this country could still make it and get back on its feet again—these people would still be engaged in some kind of civilized behavior. But could they care less? They know this is the last stop. After this there's only chaos” [p. 132]. Do you agree with Imo? Why or why not? And why do you think Marciano chose to call her novel The End of Manners?

8. In the novel's opening pages, we learn that Maria is a food photographer who would rather shoot soufflés than people. What is the significance, if any, of her attempt to return to photojournalism at this point in her life?

9. Pierre Le Clerc becomes Maria's agent after one of her photos wins a World Press Photo award. Both he and Maria refer to this photo as “the Barbie doll picture" [p.11]. Why do they call it that, and what do you think the name implies? Why does Maria have such mixed feelings about the photo?

10. Compare and contrast Imo's journalistic style to Jeremy's, and also to Florence's. Is it possible to write a story such as Imo's from an outsider's point of view? Can someone like Florence, who is so involved in the lives of her subjects, be objective? Has Florence really assimilated, or is she, as Imo believes, putting on an act?

11. When Maria is desperately ill in Kabul, she sends a text message to her ex-boyfriend, Carlo, an immunologist, after two years without communication. How are one's vulnerabilities in a foreign place different from vulnerabilities at home? What do you think of Maria's reaction to Carlo's help, especially when she doesn't respond to his final pleas? Has Afghanistan already changed her? In what ways? Would she have answered him at the beginning of the novel?

12. Hanif is a resourceful “fixer.” He finds Imo and Maria accommodations, obtains a translator, and takes the women to the Pashtun village, where there is no cell phone reception, even when his pregnant wife is in the hospital. Why does he put their needs first? What do you think of his decision not to stay by his wife's side? Was it a mistake?

13. As Hanif takes Maria and Imo through a narrow gorge on their way to the Pashtun village, the women feel a heightened sense of danger. But on the way back, when the women feel safe, they find themselves faced with a real threat. Afterward, Imo admits that she should have been more cautious, heeded Jeremy's warnings, and brought along the equipment he had loaned them. But would any of this have helped? Is there any way to feel secure in Afghanistan? Are you better protected—and able to experience a foreign place—when you feel secure and safe, or when you are constantly on guard?

14. Why is Maria unable to take a photo of Zuleya or of the women at the school but able to take the photo of Hanif's dying wife? What do you make of Hanif's statement to Maria, at the novel's conclusion, about the photograph?

15. Zuleya's sister says that the life of a Muslim woman in rural Afghanistan can be “a very sad life” in fact, “not a life at all" [p. 179]. What does she mean?

Foreword

1. Imo Glass and Maria Galante come from different countries and different cultural backgrounds; they have very different personalities and deal with situations differently. But in the face of the obstacles they encounter in Afghanistan, their similarities become more apparent. Compare and contrast the women. How are they more alike than they first appear to be? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Whom do you relate to most?

2. Why does Marciano choose to begin The End of Manners at the point when Imo and Maria are trying to leave Afghanistan? How do you think that this sets up the rest of the action in the book? Does knowing that Maria goes to Afghanistan at the outset of the story change the way that you view her equivocations about taking the photography assignment?

3. Francesca Marciano is also a screenwriter. What cinematic techniques, if any, did you notice in the novel? If The End of Manners were made into a film, whom would you like to see play Maria and Imo?Maria and Imo experience some surprisingly funny moments in Afghanistan. How does humor help them cope with life in a war zone? What other fictional works insert dark comedy into the theater of war? Is it daring for an author to use comedy or irony to address a world at war?

4. Hostile environment training is mandated by the insurance company. Are the lessons the Defenders try to teach useful in the real-world situations the characters encounter in Afghanistan? Or is the training simply an example of bureaucratic red tape? How do you connect the second and third sections of the novel?

5. Marciano has said that she “wanted to investigate in the book the relationshipbetween men and women during a war. How does danger affect the roles? What happens to women in a place where the men hold the guns and the power?” Do the interactions that take place between Maria and Imo and the men in Babur’s Lodge, and the atmosphere at Babur’s Lodge, succeed in doing this? How do the men and women in the novel experience war differently?

6. Maria and Imo experience some surprisingly funny moments in Afghanistan. How does humor help them cope with life in a war zone? What other fictional works insert dark comedy into the theater of war? Is it daring for an author to use comedy or irony to address a world at war?

7. On page 132, Imo says, “This seems to be the place where all good manners have come to an end. And it’s not a very good sign if you ask me. If there were any hope–if any of them actually believed this country could still make it and get back on its feet again–these people would still be engaged in some kind of civilized behavior. But could they care less? They know this is the last stop. After this there’s only chaos.” Do you agree with Imo? Why or why not? And why do you think Marciano chose to call her novel The End of Manners?

8. In the novel’s opening pages, we learn that Maria is a food photographer who would rather shoot soufflés than people. What is the significance, if any, of her attempt to return to photojournalism at this point in her life?

9. Pierre Le Clerc becomes Maria’s agent after one of her photos wins a World Press Photo award. Both he and Maria refer to this photo as “the Barbie doll picture [p.11].” Why do they call it that, and what do you think the name implies? Why does Maria have such mixed feelings about the photo?

10. Compare and contrast Imo’s journalistic style to Jeremy’s, and also to Florence’s. Is it possible to write a story such as Imo’s from an outsider’s point of view? Can someone like Florence, who is so involved in the lives of her subjects, be objective? Has Florence really assimilated, or is she, as Imo believes, putting on an act?

11. When Maria is desperately ill in Kabul, she sends a text message to her ex-boyfriend, Carlo, an immunologist, after two years without communication. How are one’s vulnerabilities in a foreign place different from vulnerabilities at home? What do you think of Maria’s reaction to Carlo’s help, especially when she doesn’t respond to his final pleas? Has Afghanistan already changed her? In what ways? Would she have answered him at the beginning of the novel?

12. Hanif is a resourceful “fixer.” He finds Imo and Maria accommodations, obtains a translator, and takes the women to the Pashtun village, where there is no cell phone reception, even when his pregnant wife is in the hospital. Why does he put their needs first? What do you think of his decision not to stay by his wife’s side? Was it a mistake?

13. As Hanif takes Maria and Imo through a narrow gorge on their way to the Pashtun village, the women feel a heightened sense of danger. But on the way back, when the women feel safe, they find themselves faced with a real threat. Afterward, Imo admits that she should have been more cautious, heeded Jeremy’s warnings, and brought along the equipment he had loaned them. But would any of this have helped? Is there any way to feel secure in Afghanistan? Are you better protected–and able to experience a foreign place–when you feel secure and safe, or when you are constantly on guard?

14. Why is Maria unable to take a photo of Zuleya or of the women at the school but able to take the photo of Hanif’s dying wife? What do you make of Hanif’s statement to Maria, at the novel’s conclusion, about the photograph?

15. On page 179, Zuleya’s sister says that the life of a Muslim woman in rural Afghanistan can be “a very sad life” in fact, “not a life at all.” What does she mean?

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End of Manners 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
This book felt as real to me as a letter from a friend. A food photographer gets talked into going to Afghanistan for work and tells of her experiences. This book reads like the diary of someone thrust into a combat zone and who reacts without the thickened skin of those more experienced living in dangerous areas. The story introduces us to the types of characters one may meet, and the confusion and harrowing conditions there. The scenes are immediate, viseral, and real. It is a very good effort in describing a real situation by a natural storyteller. I look forward to more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago