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Book update + what to read while you wait for my book

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 by Marianne Elliott

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This process of writing a book is slow.

It took me over a year to write mine. Then I signed with my agent and began rewriting for another solid year (Yes, it took me as long to rewrite my book as it did to write in the first place and yes, it was fairly excruciating).

But this week I hit a major milestone. My agent finally announced she was ready to sell my book.

Can I get a high five? A Mexican wave? A glass of champagne? Actually, scratch that. I’ll save the champagne for when the book sells!

I’ve done everything I can to make my book an enticing prospect for an editor. Now my work is done. It’s up to Laura to do her magic and, in’shallah, sell it to a publisher. When it sells, it could still take another year or longer before it lands on the shelves of any bookstores.

All that to say: you’ll be needing something else to read while you wait for my book to arrive in your local bookstore.

So I’ve been doing some research for you. Now that I’ve finished my manuscript I can start to read books set in Afghanistan again without worrying that their style, tone or content will have undue influence on my own writing.

I sent my completed manuscript off to my agent three months ago and since then I’ve been greedily devouring all the new books that have come out about Afghanistan in the past year.

First up was Lipstick in Afghanistan, by Roberta Gately, which was sent to me late last year. Gately is a nurse, a humanitarian aid worker, and a writer, who has worked in a number of countries including Afghanistan.

I’m glad I waited until I had finished my book to read it because although the style of the book is very different to mine (this is a romantic novel), the context is quite similar – a long female aid worker posted to remote Afghanistan draws inspiration from strong local women.

The storyline is not terribly realistic. Aspiring aid workers please note: you are highly unlikely to be sent to a sole charge position in rural Afghanistan on your first posting. But the portrayal of the life of an aid worker in provincial Afghanistan (a situation I know fairly well) is quite accurate and Gately does a good job of drawing a nuanced and detailed picture of Afghan culture as it appears to a newly-arrived foreigner. It’s a well written book, with a fast-paced story and some compelling characters. If you are interested in humanitarian work or in Afghanistan, enjoy strong female characters and don’t mind a touch of romance and a bit of melodrama, then you’ll enjoy this book. I did.

Next up was Kabul Girls Soccer Club: A Dream, Eight Girls and a Journey Home by Awista Ayub. Like others who have reviewed this book, I find myself a little torn. This is a wonderful story – eight Afghan girls come together through their unlikely love for soccer and face numerous challenges which provide the reader with powerful insights into the challenges facing women in girls in Afghanistan today. Unfortunately the story is let down somewhat by it’s structure and editing. Nonetheless, if you can work your way past the sometimes clunky shifts in time and the frustratingly flimsy characterizations, there are many charming moments and much to learn about life in Kabul for girls today.

Third on my list was The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon and this proved to be my pick of the three. It tells the true story of a family of young women left to fend for themselves in Kabul when their father and brothers have to flee the Taleban. One of the complaints I’ve read about this book is that it reads too much like a novel. For me, this was a strength. The book contains beautifully detailed descriptions of people and places otherwise long since lost or destroyed. Obviously, writing long after the events in question had taken place, Lemmon had to invent some of those details.

Perhaps it is because I have lived in Kabul and still carry a strong memory of the loss that seems to haunt this city where so many people have been killed and so many great works of art lost forever, that I was so moved by these reconstructions. Even as I write the word ‘reconstruction’ in this context I get more insight into why I enjoyed this book so much. Kabul is a city awaiting, and to a certain extent undergoing, reconstruction. In this book, as in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, I was able to experience a literary version of that reconstruction.

While I’m on the topic of The Kite Runner, you’ve read it, right? If not I recommend you do, along with the challenging-but-worth-it A Thousand Splendid Suns by the same author.

The final book on my reading pile was Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders by Nathan Hodge. This is a very different kind of book, an examination of the shifting role of the military in ‘nation building’ and a critique of increasing militarisation of development and diplomacy. It’s a topic close to my heart and I’m looking forward to sinking some time into this book. But it is going to take a bit of time to really get the most out of it and that kind of space and time is still hard to find around here. I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve read it, but in the meantime I’d be interested in thoughts from anyone who already has.

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18 Responses to "Book update + what to read while you wait for my book"

  1. sophie says:

    Hurray for you. Have that champagne both now AND when the book gets accepted reckon. celebrate those milestones.

  2. Katie says:

    Sending you a high five – so excited to see your book in bookstores one of these days!

    And I’ll have to check out this list of books. I’ve been wanting to read The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.

  3. Alexis Grant says:

    Yay, great to hear that! Can’t wait for the good news.

  4. Christen says:

    Yay! I’m so excited for you! And excited for the world when we get to read your book. I can’t wait!

  5. Lubna says:

    Hurrah. I will be waiting for your book. Good luck!

  6. Swirly says:

    You ABSOLUTELY deserve a high five! This is a big moment, and I am so excited for you. I am sending as much good juju as I can towards your book, although I imagine it will do just fine all on its own. Congratulations!!

  7. Art Rosch says:

    I just finished “Armed Humanitarians.” It is an interesting book and not a little mysterious. The author’s photo on the back
    seems to be at pains to conceal the writer’s appearance. He looks exhausted,like someone who just came out of a firefight. He doesn’t really take positions on Nation Building, pro or con. I’m glad he didn’t. I don’t know how to construct my own position. I’m glad our military is becoming more reflective but I’m not sure “we” should be in Afghanistan. There are still no credible institutions there and I wonder if there will ever be such a thing as a “state” of Afghanistan. I’m completely confused, in spite of more than a decade of reading on the subject and a few travels here and there. Congratulations on finding an agent. I hope a sale is on the horizon. Good work!

    Best to you with much admiration
    Art Rosch

    • Marianne Elliott says:

      Hi Art, well if it is any comfort you are in good company being confused and unsure – I think when a situation is that complex anyone who claims to be certain of the right path forward is either very brave or a little bit foolish.

  8. Abbie says:

    That’s so exciting! I hope the book comes out sooner rather then later – I can’t wait to read it!
    Congrats 🙂

  9. Jim House says:

    Very cool, Marianne! Congratulations–now it’s in someone else’s hands!!!

  10. Anne-Marie says:

    Wow, that is such exciting news! Congratulations Marianne! I am really looking forward to reading your book.

  11. congrats! can’t wait to buy it and spread the word!

  12. Marcela says:

    Congratulations! I hope your agent will find a publisher for your book soon because I can’t wait to read it!

  13. The Dropout says:

    Just found your blog and and so inspired.
    Congratulations, high five and a huge Mexican wave for you. What an achievement!
    I’m looking forward to hearing more. And I’ll keep an eye out for your recommended reading. And your book, of course.

  14. Mary says:

    Congrats on finishing your book, Marianne…how exciting!:)

  15. claire says:

    You totally get a high 5! Congratulations on reaching the next milestone with your book!

  16. SuzRocks says:

    A high five a butt slap to you! Congrats, that’s so exciting. Thanks for the book suggestions- The Dressmaker was a good book- it was well written and a good book for people to read who aren’t even that interested in Afghanistan.

    Have you ever read The Bookseller of Kabul? Another great book about Afghanistan.

    • Marianne Elliott says:

      Thank so much for all your enthusiasm and encouragement!

      Suz – I have read The Bookseller of Kabul, and I met the bookseller when I was in Kabul – I used to shop at his bookshop. As I’m sure you know, he alleges that the book unfairly and inaccurately portrayed him and his family. I suppose that’s one of the great challenges of writing non-fiction, our memory, interpretation and account of things will often be very different from other people’s. Honestly, I’m nervous about the reactions I might get from some people in my book too!

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