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James Rogers (Scotland)

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Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni - Real Stories of Afghan Women
Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni - Real Stories of Afghan Women
by Mary Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.12

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read - highly recommended, 27 Dec 2012
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With Afghanistan so much in the news - and likely to continue so - this is a must-read book which provides an insight into life for ordinary Afghan people, providing a different perspective from the one the media provide.
Mary Smith, author of Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women, spent several years working on health projects in Afghanistan and she takes the reader to small rural villages in remote areas, to refugee camps and to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Readers come to know the women, and their families, in a way no news headlines makes possible.
Despite the poverty, the hardships and the health problems, the women don't give in. The story of how the village women become health volunteers is inspiring. Along the way, there are tears, there is laughter and love and, despite all the problems they face, there is always hope.
Smith worked in Afghanistan until Taliban came to power. She later went back and the final chapters recount her return visit, meeting up with her old friends. It also provides a strong message as to why Taliban should not be allowed to return to power.
As for why the chickens were drunk - you'll have to read the book to find out.


Thousands Pass Here Every Day
Thousands Pass Here Every Day
by Mary Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.55

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful first collection, 30 Sep 2012
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This is a wonderful first collection by Mary Smith. I know her work as a novelist through her novel No More Mulberries and I was delighted to find she has included several poems about Afghanistan. These poems provide vivid snapshots of life and landscapes and of a people who come across as resilient and life affirming despite the war.

She writes, too, about her native Scotland, in particular the wonderful wild landscape of Dumfries & Galloway and she explores themes of memory and identity, drawing on her own childhood experiences. Whether writing about the small boys in Afghanistan who, with their flocks of sheep, `helter-skelter down a mountainside/in a cloud of dust'; losing a parent to dementia; Afghan women laughing at her lack of education; or Glasgow's Ramshorn Kirkyard where `the dead draw us in, entice the living/to consider past lives' Mary Smith brings a warmth and compassion to her work.

Some of the poems, like the very amusing `Erratic' and `Smeddum' are in Scots, though most are in English, in this collection which readers will want to dip into time and time again.


Veiled Freedom
Veiled Freedom
by Jeanette Windle
Edition: Paperback

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not-so-veiled propaganda, 10 Oct 2011
This review is from: Veiled Freedom (Paperback)
I have read many books set in Afghanistan and as Veiled Freedom is also about an aid worker (as I once was) working to help women and children this was an added incentive to read it. The three main characters are Steve a private security contractor, Jamil an Afghan working for the charity and Amy, a devout Christian. I don't have a problem with her being a Christian - a person's faith is his or her own business - but I did not like the way the stories she tells the Afghan children in her care are all Bible-based from Adam and Eve to David and Goliath and she gives Jamil a copy of the New Testament. The author then presumes to get inside the head of a Muslim while he is reading about Jesus. The ending of the book is entirely improbable and this book, in fact, is a work of thinly veiled Christian propaganda.
The blurb on the back says the author's research is so realistic it prompted government agencies to question her. Perhaps her knowledge of private American security companies in Kabul and how some of the expat community lives is authentic but the same can't be said about her knowledge of the Afghan people and their religion and culture. At one point she even has the character of Jamil saying it is all right for an Afghan to talk publicly about the Christian message. I don't think so.
If people want to learn something about Afghanistan and the culture then I recommend they read No More Mulberries by Mary Smith. This offers a genuine insight into the ordinary lives of Afghans without the author's views or belief system intruding.


The Saffron Kitchen
The Saffron Kitchen
by Yasmin Crowther
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Feast your senses, 5 Dec 2010
This review is from: The Saffron Kitchen (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this book which tells the timeless story of lovers who were forced apart but in a way which is fresh and captivating. The characters of Maryam and her daughter Sara are authentic and engaging and the story is beautifully written. It takes us from London to Iran and evokes a strong sense of place wherever the action is taking place. With Iran being so much in the news at the moment this is an important book which provides a less negative perspective, though that is not to say the author paints a rose-tinted picture of Iranian culture. The Saffron Kitchen also gives us an idea of how difficult it to be a foreigner in a foreign land. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning something about other cultures. I also recommend No More Mulberries by Mary Smith, also a debut novel but one written about Afghanistan which has a Scottish central character married to an Afghan doctor - a novel which, like The Saffron Kitchen, allows the reader to become totally immersed in a different culture, to feel as though they are really there.


The Wish Maker
The Wish Maker
by Ali Sethi
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.43

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and powerful, 5 Dec 2010
This review is from: The Wish Maker (Paperback)
I can't understand why there are no reviews already for this book which is a brilliant coming-of-age novel set in Pakistan. I found this first novel by Ali Seth totally absorbing; fascinating and powerful. The central character, Zaki returns to Pakistan for his cousin Samar's wedding and takes the reader on a journey back through his extended family's history centred in Lahore. They are a colourful and engaging collection of characters the ups and downs of whose lives are set against Pakistan's turbulent modern history. The Wish Maker for me deserves to be rated as highly as Uzma Aslam Khan's Trespassing which also provides fascinating insights into life in Pakistan. As those two authors provide a different perspective on life in Pakistan from the one the media feeds us, so does Mary Smith whose debut novel No More Mulberries gives an equally authentic insight into Afghanistan and ordinary lives against a backdrop of war.


Trespassing
Trespassing
by Uzma Aslam Khan
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.85

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Glorious, 5 Dec 2010
This review is from: Trespassing (Paperback)
This is a glorious book which is a real page turner. It is a story of forbidden love, of cultural conflict, of family relationships and identity, beautifully told. The reader is caught up in the lives of the central characters, Daanish Shafqat who is returning to Pakistan from America, Dia Mansoor and her mother who successfully runs a silk farm in Pakistan. There is poverty, political unrest, riots, death and love and all the contradictions of life in Pakistan. Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city is vividly described by someone who clearly knows it well. And silk worms - all you ever wanted to know about the fascinating process of making silk - and mulberries, reminding me of Mary Smith's novel No More Mulberries set in Afghanistan which also allows the reader an authentic insight into life in that war-torn country.


In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
by Daniyal Mueenuddin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, 4 Dec 2010
Usually with short stories I read one or two in between reading other things but with this I had to read them straight through - wonderful stories. Each story stands alone but they are linked through the characters' relationships with a landowning Pakistani family. Here is a wonderful set of characters: authentic, engaging and above all, believable, as are the situations (by no means always happy) in which they find themselves. Daniyal Mueenuddin gives a glimpse of life in Pakistan in the same way as Kamila Shamsie.
I would rate this as highly as a novel which gives a similar in-depth and genuine insight into life, but in Afghanistan rather than Pakistan. That is Mary Smith's debut novel No More Mulberries which provides an authentic flavour of life in rural Afghanistan in a way not presented by the media.


Love and War in Afghanistan
Love and War in Afghanistan
by Gulchin Gulmamadova-Klaits
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.12

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real people, real stories, 1 April 2010
This is a wonderful book offering an authentic and fascinating glimpse into the lives of ordinary Afghan people, both men and women, who tell their stories in their own words. Some are old enough to remember a time before the Soviets occupation, some are educated, others illiterate, some wealthy, others poor and they talk about their lives in a simple straightforward way. Mary Smith's non-fiction work Before The Taliban: Living with War, Hoping for Peace (sadly currently out of print) does something similar and her novel, No More Mulberries, also offers an insight into the daily lives of ordinary Afghan people. It may be a work of fictional but it is no less authentic and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know what life is really like in rural, central Afghanistan.


Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes To Weep
Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes To Weep
by Siba Shakib
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.19

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars it is a page turner and easy to read - BUT ..., 6 Jan 2010
I can understand why so many people have said they enjoyed this book - it is a page turner and easy to read. However, I think the main reason people say they enjoy it is because it panders to the perceived notion of life for Afghan women. The central character Shirin Gol is bombed by the Soviets, becomes a refugee in Pakistan, is forced into marriage, is raped, forced into prostitution ....Yes, Afghan women have had to live through appalling times, particularly, though not only, during the Taliban regime - but not all women, not all the time. It does the women - and the men - of Afghanistan no favours to be portrayed in this way.

There are books out there which portray a more accurate picture of life for Afghan women. Try Three Women of Herat by Veronica Doubleday or Mary Smith's novel No More Mulberries. It is set mainly in Hazara Jat, the central region of Afghanistan (Hussain in The Kite Runner is Hazara), remote and mountainous and the reader is drawn into the lives of the characters from British-born Miriam and her Afghan doctor husband Iqbal to the women and men living in the villages. It is a heart-warming, moving story but there is humour and laughter as well.


The Places In Between
The Places In Between
by Rory Stewart
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredible journey, 23 Aug 2009
This review is from: The Places In Between (Paperback)
This is a beautifully written travel book about the incredible journey Rory Stewart makes on foot across part of Afghanistan - interspersed with a history of King Babur who made the same journey. And then there is Babur the dog which attaches himself to Rory and provides a lip quivering end to the story.
I wish he had spent more time in the various places he found lodgings and hospitality and wanted more details about the people - time to savour the culture and the interactions between the author and those he met along the way.
For a book that does take time to engage the reader with the details of daily life lived in rural Afghanistan I recommend No More Mulberries, a novel by Mary Smith. Although a work of fiction it allows the reader to live and breathe village life - the sights, the sounds, the tastes, cultural beliefs. You really get to know the characters in a way few other books on Afghanistan allow.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 12, 2010 10:17 PM GMT


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