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.
Silver Medalist 2015 Independent Publishers Awards
Book of the Year Finalist 2014 Foreword Reviews
Finalist 2015 Indie Excellence Book Awards
Semi-Finalist 2015 Kindle Book Awards
Mississippi Library Association 2015 Fiction Award
One of my favorite restaurants is Or2k, a bohemian Israeli place in Kathmandu, Nepal. They serve middle-eastern vegetarian and play Marley, and Dylan, and Cat Stevens. The walls are decorated with blacklight mushrooms and Kokopelli—a sort of eclectic, retro-hippie, groove—très chic. It’s usually full of stoners, and backpackers, and young singles making travel diary entries. You sit on the floor at low tables and lounge back against bright cotton cushions. The food is good and the people-watching, entertaining.
I was camped there one afternoon with my laptop catching up on email when four Australians settled into a spot across from me. While they ordered, they bantered about in that affable Aussie style, three girls and a guy. As they were waiting for their food, one of the girls covered her face with both hands and began to weep. She was magazine-cover gorgeous: rangy frame, raven hair, aquiline nose, olive skin, chocolate eyes. The slender fingers covering her face ended in perfectly manicured natural nails. Her weeping seemed odd, out-of-place. I avoided eye contact and focused on my laptop. It was awkward.
Chicks Have a High EQ
As that elegant Australian wept, her female friend leaned into her and put an arm around her shoulder. She didn’t talk, or reason, she just held her. The third woman rose from her pad on the other side of the low table and nestled on the opposite shoulder, stroking the girl’s hair and dabbing her tears with a Kleenex. The guy sat awkwardly alone. Uneasy, he glanced about the room, fretting with his smart phone, trying to look preoccupied. The three women sat together for a good fifteen minutes, hardly saying a word—a classic EQ moment.
There are two ways to measure a person’s potential, IQ and EQ. IQ, the intellectual quotient, is a standardized measure of raw processing power. EQ, the emotional quotient, is difficult to estimate but it is a more critical life skill.
“Emotions guide everything we do.” Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence.
Emotions are like instruments on a machine. They measure systems. Men tend to ignore the emotional instruments or try to control them. Women tend to read the instruments and use emotional information to manage their lives.
I have five granddaughters. They’re all precocious little things: chatty, inquisitive, fashion conscious, and very observant. I was shocked one day when the oldest one, scarcely five years old at the time, told me I’d worn “that same shirt” on my last visit. My last visit had been the month before. I couldn’t remember what shirt I had worn the day before much less the month before. When I take her into the city for ice cream or lunch, she never fails to recognize someone. I seldom recognize anyone in town.
Those young Aussie women made frequent eye contact as they sat together. Their consoling glances said volumes as they scanned one another’s faces and measured one another’s body language. The guy looked like he wanted to disappear.
As the troubled woman quieted, the two consoling women began to weep, their tears discreet and sincere. It was a remarkable transition, as if the two friends were safety valves, releasing pent-up, toxic steam. Their lavish compassion made a public emotional train wreck look like a sailboat gliding on a gentle tide onto a sun-warmed beach.
The food arrived and everyone settled. As they sampled one another’s dishes, the three young women moved seamlessly into a somber face-searching conversation. The guy picked aimlessly at his falafel.
About halfway through the meal a precious little five-year-old British girl literally danced over to their table. As her father paid their bill and her mother watched from a distance, the little Shirley Temple announced herself in a cheery London accented greeting.
“Hello,” she said. “My name is Catherine. Do you like my new dress?” She spun around, flashing dimples, and curly hair, and rosy charm, her skirt flowing around her in a crayon riot. Everyone in earshot smiled and paused their conversation and watched with warming hearts. The table lit up and the melancholy girls hugged her, and laughed, and complimented her pretty dress.
I don’t know, but I suspect the child had watched the drama from across the room. And in her little female heart she knew exactly what to do.
Carey Richard is the author of The Poppy Field Diary, available as paperback or on Kindle.
I’ve always been more given to wandering than the itinerary. It seems to me the muse is in the meander. My first journey outside the protective womb of the deep south was to a dozing cane field of a town in southeast Mexico, Cosamaloapan.
I traveled overland in a wheezing International Scout with a Cuban. He was vague about his origin but I knew enough to figure out that he didn’t wash up on south beach in some fragile inner-tube raft. He carried himself like one whose family once held land, in a sort of noble resignation…one of those pathos kind of folk—cartoon exterior, prone-to-brooding, troubled.
We met some locals—rough, calloused ranch hands in starched jeans and pearl button cowboy shirts and crisp hats. We ended up sharing tacos in a grimy local cantina. The town sheriff slouched at the bar, harassing a plump young girl. He was a caricature lawman…open-shirt, hairy-chest, pot-belly, drunk.
Halfway through the tacos, he staggered over to where we sat and slammed a weathered pistol down on our table. The gun spun a lazy circle and stopped, its cannon barrel staring into my sinking soul. His bourbon scent wafted over us. I avoided eye contact. The ranch hands shuffled, timid and embarrassed. He asked me if I wanted to buy a Mexican trinket. I stared meekly at my taco.
I understood, in that time stricken moment, that I was powerless. I didn’t stand and swap insults with him. I didn’t move. I was a peasant, like the rest of the men around the table. I didn’t seethe in anger or proudly resist my emasculation. I focused on my plate and hoped I would survive.
Time stands still in moments of powerlessness—that proverbial stare into the abyss. I discovered in that eternal moment that I was not arrogant or proud or brave or witty, but neither was I a coward. I was a survivor—nothing more, nothing less. I would do what ever it took to live another day.
I thought of my two-year-old son back home. I thought I would like to see him. I thought I would like to live.
Carey Richard is the author of The Poppy Field Diary available on Kindle or paperback.
My first bus trip in a foreign land was an overnight into Mexico City from Vera Cruz. There was some discrepancy on my ticket and I spent most of the night standing in the aisle of that double-booked diesel. I swayed through the night, slumbering on my feet through town after darkened town. We crested a ridge at dawn and dropped down into the ancient crater that is Mexico City.
The bus station was on the edge of town. I had an afternoon flight to New Orleans and all day to cross the city. I was poor in those days and traveled on a tight budget. Down to a five-dollar bill and a meager handful of centavos, I decided to hold the five for lunch and struck out on foot, marking my way by the passenger jets that descended on a distant horizon. After two hours walking, the planes were still toys in the distance and everyone I stopped to ask for directions laughed and said, “Taxi, taxi!”
In a quiet municipal park, I asked an elegant, aging little man for directions to the aeropureto. He was French. Through sign language and broken Spanish and patience, I got through to him that I had no pesos and no comprehension of the city bus system.
He guided me with a gentle hand on my elbow to a corner bus stop and pulled a plastic bag as long as my arm from his suit coat pocket. He fished out a worn peso and waited with me for a bus with Aeropuerto emblazoned across the front headpiece.
He smiled and waved as I watched him recede into the distance. A wizened little blue-eyed Frenchman in a thread-worn suit. I have thought of him often through the course of my journeys. In a world gone to hell, random acts of kindness give me great hope.
Carey Richard is the author of The Poppy Field Diary available on Kindle or paperback.