Thursday, April 25


Fiction can be both truth and a product of imagination. But some unimaginative readers and reviewers automatically, arrogantly, dismiss a book for lack of authenticity if the author has not traveled to the locale, if the author does not share a protagonist's ethnicity, career or religion, and yet they can offer no other detailed criticism.

Ian Reifowitz writes for In the Fray and Truthout:  "But fundamentally, this line of criticism — that artists or writers can’t tell a particular story because they are of a different ethnic background from the subjects of the film or history — is a form of prejudice, too. It may not have the life-and-death stakes of the kind of prejudice that motivated George Zimmerman, but it is prejudice nonetheless."

Yes, it's prejudice and also censorship, a form of control to limit uncomfortable stories that need to be told. And we can only pity those who refuse to let their imaginations soar.

More about my quest for authenticity on the blog from Dina Santorelli, author of Baby Grand:

"Fiction goes beyond the reporting of facts. Writers can be obsessed with small details and miss the larger truths. As Stephen King once suggested, an author can become 'too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside.'"

Image by Fear of Beauty.

Tuesday, April 9


The story of Project Artemis is one that shows globalization's many intricate twists.

A man is in charge of training pilots, US and foreign, including those fighting under Chiang Kai-shek, during World War II and decides that Americans could use a school that emphasizes trade and global connections. He obtains an airbase in Glendale, Arizona from the US War Assets Administration with the condition that the property be used for a school "for instruction in foreign area studies, business administration and international relationships." The school's international enrollment drops after the 9/11 attacks on the US, planned within Afghanistan. A few later, the school starts a training program for Afghan entrepreneurs - and that helps boost international enrollment once again.

Connections, expected and unexpected, emerge from trade, education, war and other diverse forces of globalization.

Photo of Lt. General Barton Kyle Yount, Thunderbird founder, courtesy of the Arizona Memory Project.

Sunday, April 7


The number of parallels between The Colour of Milk and Fear of Beauty are many and stunning.

Both books focus on women raised in small farming communities, though one is set in 1831 England and the other is set in circa-2012 Afghanistan. The women are illiterate, find reason to learn how to read and write and tell their stories.  Men twist religious texts to control and abuse women. The protagonists are exceptionally intelligent, aware of the challenges for women and their communities. Their families resist discussing those challenges. Both authors toy with grammar to emphasize that these are new writers expressing their thoughts.

Most eerie are the final sentences for each book, the first one published in May 2012 for the UK and December 2012 for the US, the other drafted in 2009 and published in January 2013 for the US.

For Color of Milk: "and so I shall finish this very last sentence and i will blot my words where the ink gathers in the pools at the end of each letter. and then i shall be free. For Fear of Beauty: I have only one certainty in a world that never stops changing - that more must be learned and accomplished. This lack of certainty and the search are my freedom.

Education, the ability to place one's story in the context of our times, is liberating.

The major difference of the two novels? The Colour of Milk is bleak in how the protagonist Mary must take control. Fear of Beauty, in the modern setting, can afford to be more optimistic. Afghan women have role models elsewhere in the world.

To think what our forebears endured from unequal societies ... The author of Fear of Beauty highly recommends The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon.

Friday, April 5

Reeling in readers

Gratitude to Debbie Campoli for reviewing Fear of Beauty in Women's Book Review: "You find yourself rooting for Sofi and admiring her strength. The story keeps a reader wanting for more, and the author does an excellent job of reeling you in."

Now Debbie Campoli has some stories to tell - and we would like to read a book from her!

Photo courtesy of John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland and Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, April 4


What was most fun in writing Fear of Beauty? Switching back and forth in point of view between two diverse characters, an illiterate Afghan woman and an Army Ranger in charge of security of a nearby outpost. First-person point of view suits Sofi, and the more distant third-person suits Joey.

Kristen Elise of Murder Lab analyzes the back-and-forth point of view in Fear of Beauty. She explains that the book's "two subplots mesh at the beginning of Chapter 7" and describes the "approach of juxtaposing the first- and third-person perspectives as hallmarks of independent subplots" as "a fabulous way to include the intimacy of a first-person perspective while, in parallel, allowing the reader to observe scenes that the first-person protagonist would not have been privy to."

Her analysis is sharp, maybe because of her scientific background as a cancer drug discovery biologist within a major pharmaceutical company and as author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex.

Those who write a book discover that reading other books is never the same. Writers are judges. Do check out Murder Lab.

Image courtesy of Murder Lab.

Monday, April 1


Once again, life imitates art. Fear of Beauty describes an Afghan woman who is desperate to learn how to read after the death of her son - and she finds a teacher with an aid worker - a Bengali-American whose goal is to empower Afghan women though agriculture training.

Women understand that education ultimately improves communities - and Parth Shastri with The Times of India describes women of India heading to Afghanistan to teach. One source describes many similarities between Afghan and Indian ways of learning.

Shastri's article describes a group of 16 consultants and teachers attending a two-week workshop at the Centre for Environment Eucation in collaboration with the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan. Lessons were given, connections made, without complaints about language barriers or two weeks being too short of period. As Fear of Beauty suggests, much can be learned in two weeks, with motivation fired up. Determined students and  teachers overcome the language barriers - and never say can't.

"If Afghanistan has a fresh crop of woman scientists and linguists two decades from now, educationists in that country will have to thank their Indian counterparts," Shastri writes.

We can only hope that we are reading similar stories a year from now - and beyond.

Photo of Afghan teacher at the Nawabad School in the Deh Dadi district, courtesy of Sandra Arnold, US Armed Forces and Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, March 28

Divided partners

Fear of Beauty and this blog describe the role of the provincial reconstruction teams - groups of civilian and military specialists - in Afghanistan as they provide technical advice and support in agriculture, education, health care, construction and many other areas. Of course, some teams have produced great achievements and others have been less successful. Philosophies differ, as demonstrated by the quarrels between Cameron and Mita in Fear of Beauty. So much depends how the teams worked with local governments.

Alexandra Gheciu details and analyzes NGO concerns about the PRTs in an article "Divided Partners: The Challenges of NATO-NGO Cooperation in Peacebuilding Operations" for Global Governance:

"From NATO's point of view, the contemporary blurring of boundaries between civilian and military actions in peacebuilding operations can be seen as an opportunity to bring into the sphere of humanitarian activity some of the advantages of the military culture of efficiency. But from the perspective of many NGOs, the existing blurring of boundaries is a deeply problematic development that should be contained and, as much as possible, reversed. What is needed, according to this logic, is a clear separation between the military and humanitarian norms and activities, and an affirmation of the leading role of humanitarian organizations in the definition of the rules of the game in activities that involve assistance to civilians in war-torn countries."

Gheciu concludes that a lack of coordination will only lead to more disagreements, wasted resources and "growing disenchantment both in the territories undergoing postconflict reconstruction and in the international community - with international peacebuilding operations."

Strong opinions are the norm. People quarrel, institutions quarrel - and with luck, communities progress.