Fear of Beauty; by Susan Froetschel

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MWSA Review

What has an intricately woven plot, an unlikely sleuth, romance, mystery, intrigue, war, and political/social commentary that brings compassionate understanding of the nation of Afghanistan? Fear of Beauty by Susan Froetschel.

Set in modern-day Afghanistan, the book is, at its core, a mystery that will keep you turning pages from the first sentence to the last word. Beginning with the prologue, we are introduced to Sofi, an Afghan woman whose son Ali was found dead at the bottom of a cliff in the unforgiving mountainous area near the village of Laashekoh in the Helmand Province. The villagers seem willing to call it a tragic accident, but Sofi fears there is more to the death than the slip of a foot.

Sofi’s perspective, told in the first person, alternates with the third person narrative of American forces leader Army Ranger Joey Peterson, whose mission is to share agricultural knowledge and technology with nearby villages. Rounding out the cast of characters, Taliban extremists have descended on the village to create mistrust and division, while furthering their goal of forcing women back into more traditional roles of subjugation.

Thinking that I was reading a simple mystery, I was slowly reeled in to contemplate the lives of hardworking Afghan farmers along with their isolated women. In the maelstrom of war torn Afghanistan, cultural traditions of all sides of the conflict are explored in an engaging and insightful manner.

Fear of Beauty is a book that will stay with you for a long time, causing you to examine your beliefs and inform your heart. After the mystery is solved, the author includes an epilogue from Sofi’s point of view that is a skillfully and beautifully written essay that spans all cultures, all beliefs, all traditions, and all countries. Its message endures beyond the reading of the last word.

MWSA Reviewer: Betsy Beard (2014)

Author's Synopsis

The battered body of an Afghan boy is found at the base of a cliff outside a remote village in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Did he fall as most of the villagers think? Or is this the work of American soldiers, as others want to believe? Not far from the village, the US Army has set up a training outpost. 

Sofi, the boy's illiterate young mother, is desperate to find the truth about her son's death. But extremists move in and offer to roust the "infidels" from the region, adding new pressures and restrictions for the small village and its women. 

We hear two sides of this story. One is Sofi's. The other is that of US Army Special Ranger Joey Pearson, who is in this faraway place to escape a rough childhood and rigidly fundamentalist parents. 

In time, and defying all odds, Sofi secretly learns to read--with the help of Mita Samuelson, an American aid worker. Through reading, the Afghan woman develops her own interpretation of how to live the good life while discovering the identity of her son's murderer and the extremists' real purpose in her village.  

As they search for answers, Sofi, Joey, and Mita come to the same realization: in each of their separate cultures the urge to preserve a way of life can lead to a fundamentalism that destroys a society's basic values.