Fear of Beauty, Susan Froetschel juxtaposes the plight of an illiterate Afghani housewife trying to solve her son's murder with the mission of a nearby Army outpost to bolster the Afghanistan farming economy. The story is told from two very different perspectives, each weaving an independent subplot into the story. The first perspective is from Sofi, the uniquely curious mother of five who believes literacy will be the key to understanding what happened to her oldest son, Ali. The second comes from Joey, the Army Ranger in charge of security detail at the outpost.
Froetschel's layering of these two perspectives offers a rich insight into each of these characters and into the conflict that each of them becomes enmeshed in. Following Ali's murder, tensions are naturally high between the small Afghani village of Laashekoh and the American outpost. Confounding these tensions are a narcissistic agricultural specialist and the village's ubiquitous, heavy-handed "visitors" - a nomadic Taliban faction with a vested interest in Laashekoh's economy and people.
The character I became most enthralled with was Sofi, a woman torn between her expected role as an Afghani woman and her intractable desire to challenge the status quo. As she secretly struggles to understand the written word, Sofi soon learns that the conflict enveloping Laashekoh is much larger than Ali's death. Her circle of trust becomes smaller and smaller until Sofi has only her own intelligence to rely upon.
The significance of the novel's title is gradually revealed over the course of the story. It becomes most clear in the form of a powerful metaphor, developed through some of the book's most poignant scenes. The novel's weaknesses included a few credibility issues and a few minor editorial glitches. There were also several characters, some of whom were critical to the plot, whom I would have liked to have seen developed a bit better. Overall, the story was a well-paced, captivating mystery that offered very readable insight into some of the issues of modern Afghanistan. I would recommend this novel to any reader of murder mysteries as well as to anyone interested in women's rights, literacy and religion in the Middle East.
To read an interview with Susan Froetschel, click here.
To purchase a copy of Fear of Beauty, click here.
For additional titles by Seventh Street Books, visit the publisher's website.