My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I very much enjoyed this book – many quotable quotes and a real sense that the author had a grasp of the Afghan temperament. He did at least travel and live in the country for quite some months before attempting this book.
Others here havegiven a good synopsis and critique of the book. I just want to emphasize, in my opinion, that the value of this book lies really in the narrative surrounding the central feminine character, Ellen Jasper. Although we only meet her some 100+ pages into the book, she is talked of and analysed at some length prior to this. The reason: she is a young American woman from an influential family who marries and Afghan engineer, returns to his homeland and then goes awol. Concerned parents bring pressure to bear at home -> senator pressures American consulate in Kabul -> young American seconded to that office assigned the task of locating young woman.
The plot may be a bit tenuous it’s true but the character of Ellen Jasper isn’t. She’s a beautiful, worldly, intelligent, high-spirited girl who is liked and loved by almost everyone she meets, men and women alike. As it transpires she leaves her engineer for a group of nomadic Kochis and takes young Mark the diplomat along with her. Much thought-provoking dialogue follows as they venture inland though some magnificent scenery.
Ellen Jasper embodies the restless energy of youth and its disillusionment with the status quo. She claims to have married her Afghan engineer simply to spite her father and to pour scorn on his ‘petty scale of judgement’, but one feels there is more to her than just rebellion. Michener’s portrayal of her is quite prescient. In many ways her character forstalled the sandal-wearing hippies, 3rd word groupies and volunteers of the latter half of the 20th century who have foregone the comforts and certainties of their working-class lives for the adventure and altruism of traveling, living and working in the so-called developing world.
One other thing worth contemplating today as much as yesterday, in the words of the leading male character of the book:
“He’s right,” I [Mark Miller] told Moheb. “You’d both better get used to Ellen Jasper,” I warned. “Because once you let your women out of the chaderi, Afganistan’s going to have a lot of girls like her.”