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Caravans Hardcover – July 12, 1963
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ntic adventure of wild Afghanistan, master storyteller James Michener mixes the allure of the past with the dangers of today. After an impetuous American girl, Ellen Jasper, marries a young Afghan engineer, her parents hear no word from her. Although she wants freedom to do as she wishes, not even she is sure what that means. In the meantime, she is as good as lost in that wild land, perhaps forever....
"An extraordinary novel....Brilliant."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
From the Paperback edition.
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James Michener was a professional writer. He knew his craft. In Caravans, his heart and his head got totally involved. He made many of the treks across Afghanistan and saw the great ruins of past civilisations for himself. He became enchanted with the rigour, beauty and contrasting humanity there - and I have little doubt he fell in love at least once. He puts all this into the book, yearning to understand and explain his own conflicting emotions aroused by an alien world with which the contemporary reader can resonate, since so much of that world is hardly changed and is even now beating on our thinking as the West enacts the last throes of its current military strategy in Afghanistan.
And then, there is a great story line, the journey of an intrepid American woman seeking to escape her Western culture. Michener hangs one back story after another on this heroic thread, and each one has a core of authenticity, probably stemming from his own dramatic personal experiences in Afghanistan.
For me, a great narrative and a thought-provoking book, written with love, seamlessly poured out onto the page.
So much of what Michener wrote of the Central Asian country back in the late '50s remains unchanged today. And so much of the bafflement of the Western characters in the book about Afghanistan are the same issues that leave us scratching our heads today.
While most of Caravans remains relevant, there are also parts that seem cringe-worthy seen from today's perspective. For instance, Afghans are frequently described as thieves. Also, it seems ironic that the Western men bemoan how women are treated under the harsh rule of the Islamic mullahs ... but then these same "enlightened" Western men make sexist comments to and about the few Western women in their midst. I'm sure Michener was being true to the time in which the story takes place, but that doesn't mean it doesn't produce a cringe here and there for the modern reader.
Those quibbles aside, it's obvious that Michener loves this ancient, wild and violent country. This is especially true in the description of the trip with the nomadic caravan. Where once these caravans roamed back and forth from India and Iran - or even further - Michener finds the same sort of melancholy in the end of the nomads' way of life when countries began to close their borders to them as Americans lament in the passing of the Western frontier and the days of the cowboy.
I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed Michener's books. I'm glad this book came along to remind me.