Patricia McArdle is a retired American diplomat. Her debut novel "Farishta", which won the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Grand Prize for General Fiction, was inspired by events that occurred during the year she spent in northern Afghanistan with a British Army unit. From 1979-2006 she worked overseas and in Washington D.C. as a member of the U.S. diplomatic corps. Before joining the Department of State she served for three years as one of the first two female Naval Officers at a remote U.S. communications base in Morocco. Prior to her military service, she spent two years as the only Peace Corps volunteer in a small village in central Paraguay.
I deeply admire how the author draws vivid, verbal pictures of a world we know nothing about, and how she presents snapshots of the country's political and cultural complexities through her memoir-style vignettes. The book is infused with the authority of personal experience, making it--at times--hyper-real.
So many scenes and ideas in Farishta have come back to me since reading the book, especially with Afghanistan a continuing issue in the news. I wonder how Afghanistan will re-set when the American presence is lessened, and whether a decade of freedom from Taliban rule will have a lasting influence on politics and culture. The book makes me wonder what will become of the Western-style infrastructure "improvements" that can not be sustained, and whether appropriate technologies (such as solar cooking, which Farishta advances) will ever be formally advocated in foreign aid programs to Afghanistan and other countries that have chopped down and consumed everything that will burn. I didn't really think about these problems until I read the book. And I like anything that gets my brain working like this.
This book has the cumulative wisdom and depth of the author's experience as a Peace Corps volunteer, a lieutenant in the US Navy, and then 30 years of being a State Dept. representative in many overseas posts. Because of the cross-cultural sensitivity, the book, set in 2005 Afghanistan, has a deep concern for each of the parts of the society, and an acuity of insight, which is rare and delightful. There is respect for and understanding of the military mission, as well as the state department's goals. There is a unique interest and understanding of the Afghani people, and the problems that beset them, exemplified in the problem of finding enough fuel for cooking the daily meals. The interest in Afghanistan's history, and the archeology exploring that history, is presented through the presence of a French archeologist, Prof. Mongibeaux. Both PTSD and solar cooking are themes also found in this book. But to my mind, the most important thing about this book is a good female role model, for young people to see and care about. "Farishta" which is Angela Morgan's name in Dari, is a strong, healthy woman, doing good work, in a difficult assignment.
This novel incorporates true to life scenes in the life of the female in Arabian countries. The author tells in gentle but undeniable words of the hardship and deprivation of the females in the arab countries. They are equal with the goats and often have less value than a good goat. The goat does not disobey or talk back. I am not going to introduce a spoiler but she speaks of her husbands death due to an ied and her grief and how it occupies the next 12 years of her life. She talks of how she came out of it, her last year in the foreign service and how she copes with death of her friends and co workers in a depressed county with disappearing economy and services and literally no chances to step into the 20 century. Also look for the vultures some of whom are in friendly clothing as they feed on the blood of the opressed.
A fascinating glimpse into war and life in Afghanistan, as told from this author's very credible point of view. I found it remarkably insightful - as I read this President Obama announced our initial troop withdrawal ("The Russian Army was here for ten years, but the Afghans knew they'd leave eventually. They don't know how long we'll be here, but they do know one thing for damn sure. We won't be here forever. And when we get tired and pull out, they'll dig up all those munitions they have wrapped, oiled and buried in their backyards or hidden in caves, and control of this country will go right back to the guys with the most guns.") The characters, while believable, were hard to get close to - even Angela "Farishta" Moran. I admired her toughness and felt her pain, but still didn't feel I really knew her. While I enjoyed the author's voice, I found the book thin on plot and, as the story went on, began to expect more "one damned thing after another". I was profoundly disturbed by the women's issues that were addressed, but even these were dulled by predictability. I look forward to this author's next book - I will most certainly give it a read and am curious to know where her writing will go from here. I am also curious to learn more about her work with solar ovens! Bravo!
"Farishta" by Patricia McArdle, a recent winner of the 2012 San Diego Book Awards for published general fiction, is an intriguing look at a diplomat's life inside Afghanistan. It is the story of Angela Morgan, a U.S. diplomat, who witnesses the death of her husband in the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut.
After his death she flees back to the United States and sticks to desk assignment to protect herself. With no high-priority postings her career is coming to a dead end until she is assigned to the mission in Afghanistan. She is scared to death to take the assignment; but knows it is the end of her career if she doesn't.
When she arrives in Afghanistan she is met with hostility by the Afghan males and her own all male team. As she continues to come up against bureaucratic roadblocks to helping the Afghan people rebuild she begins to sneak out of the compound in a burka and help the people in her own way. She works to improve their living conditions and quality of life.
I really liked the characters in this novel and felt that they were very well developed. The emotions and conflicts were very real. The story was well paced and kept me reading to find out what would happen next. A great read!