THE BOOK OF TROUBLE: A ROMANCE
Ann Marlowe

 


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Harcourt, Feb 2006
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Memoir

Having told all her New York friends about her love affair with an Afghan man, author Ann Marlow turns to us. THE BOOK OF TROUBLE gives readers a chance to peep into the private corners of another person’s life, and watch the tortuous process of self analysis.

Ann is in the perfect emotional place to fall for a man like Amir. She has just returned from Afghanistan. There she taught briefly and stayed with an Afghan family she loved. As a result, she is in love with Afghanistan. In New York, her sex life for years had consisted of a series of brief affairs full of protective social games, and one night stands with no true emotion. In one of her lines that zing home because they expose our inner workings, she says, “I’m tired of pretending I don’t care about a man so that he’ll like me more.”

A major theme of THE BOOK OF TROUBLE is that in America, love and sex have become denatured. Love is given with reservations, temporarily, within boundaries. In addition to Amir’s unabashed maleness, a trait generally ascribed to Arabs and Muslims, one of the things Ann loves about him is the wholeheartedness with which he expresses his feelings in private. Ann has been badly lacking in this all her life. Now she feels freed to do the same. Raised in a loveless family, admired for putting her head before her heart, Ann’s life is changed when she experiences a love that drives everything before it.

Ann puts a great deal of thought into understanding (excusing) Amir on the grounds of his culture. By career and inclination, she is a cultural analyst. She analyzes E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G, but especially foreign cultures. Her experience has been gained in extensive foreign travel and several languages, combined with a degree in philosophy. Generalizing for analysis has plenty of pitfalls, but her musings are often interesting.

I have my opinions about why things go wrong with Amir, and I expect you’ll have yours. The evidence appears to be honestly laid out, so we can see even the connections Ann doesn’t see. I especially want to mention one of her points, because I think it is so valuable. The kindness, tenderness, and “emotional bravery” which make men loving partners do not grow under conditions of competition. Women who confront men in a competition for equality – in other words, a power struggle – are not allowing those qualities to flower. The same goes with women, too, of course. Attack in any form does not bring out the best in people.

If you have a good love relationship, with the necessary faith and cooperation, do not read the aptly named THE BOOK OF TROUBLE. It is persuasive. While reading it I found myself re-evaluating my relationships in this pessimistic light, even though I knew what was happening. I was lucky to get a quick reality check. On the other hand, read THE BOOK OF TROUBLE if you are a Western woman attracted to a man from the Muslim countries. You need to know this stuff. If you want someone to reinforce your cynical approach, keep THE BOOK OF TROUBLE with you and dip into it often. It will help you stay as strong as a stone.

Ann Marlowe’s previous book, HOW TO STOP TIME: HEROIN FROM A TO Z, was also a confessional memoir. How do you get close to people when you have the habit of keeping them at a distance? Reveal yourself in writing.

April 2006

 

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