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The Book of Trouble: A Romance Hardcover – February 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.)
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From 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.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1St Edition edition (February 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151011311
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151011315
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,282,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
At first glance, this memoir-travelogue is a sensitive tale of a love affair that spans two cultures and ignores an age discrepancy. Ann Marlowe has long nurtured an interest in Afghanistan, is leaving her lair, New York's East Village, for four weeks to teach English in a school in Afghanistan. Then she meets Amir. Ten-years younger, he fled Pakistan in 1982, graduated from Princeton and currently works in New York. Although he is an acquired taste, Amir becomes more appealing through their conversations. In his defense, Amir clearly states his position on marriage and his eventual return to his country of origin. Contrary to her friends' advice, Ann keeps her own counsel, savoring the intimate moments with Amir, ignoring the distance he enforces when they are in public.

The book's tempo shifts abruptly with Marlowe's change of scene to Mazar-i-Sharif, her experiences in the Middle East rife with personal reactions to people and place: "I did not feel they were poor because they did not feel they were poor. It's like the morning of the world." She is moved by her host's commitment to family and the land. Marlowe's observations while traveling in Mazar-i-Sharif read like a travelogue, impressions of the country, people, and customs compared to America; the chapters on Amir are more intimate, an examination of the male-female condition, the love affair already doomed, in spite of the ease with which "love" seeps into the relationship.

But as Amir grows more distant and unavailable, Ann reacts with stubborn disbelief, clinging to her memories of their nights together.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By T. M. Wilson on February 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful, wide ranging, engaging memoir. It's all here - cousin marriage, intergenerational sex, cultural differences (and not the tedious starch you get served up in so much travel writing), criticisms of American society, a strong heart and powerful searching intelligence. "The Book of Trouble" is at the outset a love story. West Village writer meets significantly younger man from Afghanistan. Is he acceptable as a lover? No. Does she even consider him? No. Do they get together? Yes, briefly, savagely, and then sadly: it's all over.

Ann Marlowe is an acutely observant viewer of herself, and those around her: what they say, and what they think. She understands that what love is based on is a kind of tribalism, that you fall for people who reflect or refract the milieu you were raised in. The distance between herself, an American Jew, and Amir, an Afghan Muslim is, as she notes, much less than might be first imagined. Pursuing Amir, Marlowe is also pursuing Afghanistan, and the Middle East, and that chewy topic: America. What do Muslims have that the contemporary US has lost? Can it be retrieved? How? The love affair with Amir is always gently nudged back to politics and place.

Picky giddy people should beware. This is probably not a book to read if you think that someone like Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi cannot be a rogue, and also charming. It's not for you if you imagine it's witty to cast aspersions on the author just because whipping-boy-du-jour James Frey has praised it. It's not for you if you like ideas and events neatly dissected and served on a plate like so much mental sashimi: appetising at the outset, but then an hour later you're hungry again. Yes, "The Book of Trouble" has troubling themes, but their treatment is invigorating and satisfying.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By delinquent21 on March 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
An intimate intellectual travelogue about sex and culture at unusual personal depth, Ann Marlowe's The Book Of Trouble read itself quickly. I was saving it for an impending vacation because it seemed a clever choice for traveling with a lover, but I started sampling and wound up consuming the whole thing before I packed.

Training her Harvard-honed overachieving mind on a tasty range of sexual, sociological, and cultural targets, Marlowe manages to turn her pursuit of a younger Afghan man into an exploration of her family's troubled history, womanhood in Muslim society, and the various ways contemporary Americans attempt to control (and effectively suppress) romance and lust.

Marlowe can annoy at times with steely strictures, but that's part of her disarming charm as a writer. Most of the judgments here are about her. Even when she tearfully mulls the wisdom and phrasing of chasing a lost lover, she rarely whines. She struck me as looking for truth in her experiences, as if peeling an onion that she fears her heart has become after decades of hip romancing.

The book is a grand tide of digression, but its structure reliably supports her queries as she falls in love and follows Old Glory to Mazar-i-Sherif, Kabul, and Baghdad, all the while yearning for a perfect intimacy that she fears she wasn't born to have. In asking why this is and whether it must continue to be, she entertains the mind that overlooks the heart and she provokes readers to contemplate their own solitude in this busy "sexy" world.
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