No More Mulberries
by Mary Smith
Purchase copies here
(Currently available on an Amazon Kindle Countdown Deal)
*The author provided Colleen Chesebro with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review which follows*
It all begins in Scotland –
While in college studying midwifery in her native Scotland, Margaret meets the dashing and mysterious Jawad, an Afghan engineering student. There is an immediate connection between the two and Margaret follows her heart falling head over heels in love with Jawad. They visit Afghanistan together and Margaret fearing she will lose Jawad to his homeland, proposes to him knowing the cultural roadblocks that lay ahead for the two of them. Jawad’s parents do not approve of the marriage. They finally agree that if the two can be separated for one year and still feel the same about each other they will give their permission for the couple to marry.
Meanwhile, back in Scotland, Margaret changes her name to Miriam and converts to Islam. For Miriam, this is a decision that immerses her into the Muslim culture of her future husband. After a year, Miriam and Jawad are reunited and married. Eventually, Jawad and Miriam have a son together named, Farid. Life is challenging for Miriam as she struggles to learn the language and customs of her new homeland but her love for Jawad is unwavering.
And ends far from home…
When Miriam’s father becomes ill, she takes Farid and heads back to Scotland so her father can meet his grandson. Upon her return, traveling through Pakistan on her way back to Afghanistan, Jawad’s brother informs her that Jawad has been killed. Miriam knows none of the details of Jawad’s death. All she knows is that the love of her life and her son’s father is gone. Broken by the news, Miriam knows she can’t go back to the home that Jawad and she shared as a single woman with a child. Cultural norms won’t allow it.
It is during this time in Pakistan that Miriam meets Iqbal, a doctor who is in need of a wife in order to go back to his home in Afghanistan. Culturally, it is imperative that men of Iqbal’s age be married, especially since he is a doctor/paramedic. The two enter into an arranged marriage of sorts, although they share a deep love for Afghanistan and its people. Miriam longs to stay in Afghanistan to raise Farid in his native land and marrying Iqbal seems to be the logical way to stay in the county.
What transpires is a love story steeped in the cultural differences of strict Islamic traditions, customs, and beliefs which lead Miriam and Iqbal on a mission of self-discovery to find themselves and their own true love and happiness.
I was excited to read this book because I have a close friend serving overseas in Afghanistan. Culturally, I knew nothing of the country or the traditions. I only had a fundamental knowledge of Islam so I knew this was going to be a book like no other I had ever read. My assumptions were correct and I was immediately immersed into Miriam’s world. I cried with her, laughed with her, and at times tasted the grit of blowing sand feeling as if I was walking in her footsteps.
As I began reading this novel, I realized that I had to set aside my own belief system and embrace those of the people of Afghanistan. Many of the characters struggled with this same dilemma. When Miriam attended a school to brush up on medical training she met a female German doctor who was amazed at the way the Afghani women were treated by their husbands and even their own families. It was a hard lesson to learn that some things are so deeply rooted in tradition they cannot be changed. After traveling the world a bit myself; I realized that we all have cultural differences so it was not a stretch for me to embrace the people of Afghanistan.
This novel is written from the unique perspective of the author, Mary Smith, using her own observations and experiences while living and working in Afghanistan in the 1990’s. The sights and sounds of the bazaars came alive for me through powerful descriptions that made me feel like I was right there bartering for goods beside Miriam. I longed to try some of the foods and would have loved to have experienced the rich tea that was served several times a day.
The book is written from the perspective of Miriam and then of Iqbal in alternating chapters. I believe this gives the reader a chance to delve into the personalities of the pair as separate people who are also a couple. It is a deep character study of the choices people make in life and the consequences of their choices. I found that I could relate to Miriam’s and Iqbal’s experiences in many ways in my own life.
For those of you who follow my reviews, you know how emotionally vested I get in characters who come across as real individuals. These characters leaped from the pages of the book into my heart. Remember, deep down this is the story of renewal and of finding true love, which just goes to show you that true love has no cultural boundaries.
Mary Smith has been previously featured on Reading Recommendations. Colleen Chesebro is a writer of cross-genre fiction, poetry, and imaginative nonfiction and reviews books on her blog, Silver Threading.