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

3.1 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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; 1 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: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,613,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE 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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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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Format: Hardcover
One's desire for a peek inside Afghan culture and it's people should not look toward this novel for truth. Plagued with ideology that is extremely brash and unacceptable in Afghanistan, this book is riddled with stereotypes only Western society can conjure. To get a better view of the Afghanistan that was and is, please read West of Kabul, East of New York by Mir Tamim Ansary. His literary work brings together Afghan society, Western Society, and the Afghan Diaspora having to assimilate, compensate, and come to peace between the two.
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I liked this book very much and have recommended it to friends. I'm sure I disagree with Marlowe's politics--especially regarding the war in Iraq--as much as anybody else, but that didn't dim my appreciation for her work nor make any of her ideas suspect. She brings her intelligence and the perspective that comes from having led an interesting life to her interesting range of topics; that's a combination that wins my attention and admiration every time. I also found this a very brave work, in that the most tender areas that she probes are located on her own heart.
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