Fear of Beauty
by Susan Froetschel
Review by Verna Suit
Seventh Street Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616147020
Date: 15 January 2013 List Price $15.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In the remote village of Laashekoh in Helmand Province, an Afghan mother suffers the loss of her oldest and favorite son, Ari, in a fall from a cliff. Ari was familiar with the mountains and agile, so Sofi doubts that his death was accidental. But she has no idea who would have wanted to kill him. Could his death be related to the American outpost that is being built just outside of town? Or to the band of Taliban who have been frequenting their village and cowing its inhabitants? Or to some other reason that she knows nothing about?
The story is sometimes told from the viewpoint of Sofi and sometimes from that of Joey Pearson, an Army Ranger who is chief of security for the US outpost. The Americans' mission is to attempt to form ties to the nearby Afghan villages and to offer them agricultural assistance. The fact that Afghan crops are doing very well without assistance from anyone is not lost on the reader. The Americans, on the other hand, have to learn that in their own way. They also eventually learn that they can offer the Afghan villagers help in other important ways.
Fear of Beauty offers a fascinating and detailed look into Afghan village life. In particular, it explores the restricted life of Afghan women, who "have little choice but to hide feelings and wait for men to control their lives." In a narrow world ruled by suspicion and constraint, their only power is through manipulation and subterfuge. Sofi often wishes things were otherwise and recognizes that the ability to read is key. A quirk of fate turns a female aid worker into Sofi's private tutor. The story follows not only the growth in Sofi's reading ability but in her thinking and understanding. An equally important theme is the pressure the village comes under from both the Americans and the Taliban.
I looked forward to reading this latest offering from this author after thoroughly enjoying her previous book, Royal Escape. The settings of the two books couldn't be more different, but both involve the efforts of a woman to take control of her own life. Both tell their stories effectively, thoroughly engross the reader, and reward with feel-good endings, a fine formula for a novel.