In Richard’s poetic, introspective first novel, after an Afghan woman marries for love in a culture of arranged marriages and multiple wives, she begins a lifelong journey of self-discovery filled with betrayal and forgiveness.
An unnamed young girl lives an idyllic life with her mother dreaming, reading and writing in her diary, a treasured possession from the dead French father she knows only through a photograph. “Most young girls do not remember a vigorous young father but an aging tyrant,” she says.In her beloved poppy field she spies a princelike man watering his horse. She falls in love with this romantic figure, also not named,and they eventually marry. Thegirl enters marriage with romantic notions yet is slowly disillusioned. She longs to impart to her three sons her mother’s wisdom and love of books, but her husband raises them with a love of guns and horses. As time passes, she grows suspicious. Hiding behind the anonymity of a burka, she discovers he is cheating. She obsesses over this infidelity as her country crumbles. Their eldest son joins the mujahedeen fighting the Soviets while the younger sons are sent to Pakistan. Over the years, she longs to forgive her husband but doesn’t make a move until his fortunes are at their lowest: “As long as he was inhuman, I found it difficult to forgive him….But a hurting man was more like me.” A compromise is reached in which sexual relations resume, yet true closure doesn’t happen until her dying days. Richard concludes each chapter with haikulike poems, but his prose also sings lyrically: “In early spring, the rain comes in torrents. The stream bordering my field swells and roars and gallops down the hillside, reckless and untamed.” Despite the meditative nature of the narrative, historical action continuously looms in the background—the Soviet collapse, factional warring, the rise of the Taliban, and the similarly timed attacks on the World Trade Center and mujahedeen leader Ahmad Shah Massoud.
A highly personal story that mines the psychology of betrayal and forgiveness in an Afghan psyche.