In “Flowers from Afghanistan” by Suzy Parish, the narrator, Mac, grieving the death of his young son, leaves his wife of seven years at home to accept a year-long position in Afghanistan training police officers. Through his friendships with military and civilian Americans on base and a local contract worker, Gil, and his young son, Mac begins to understand that others’ lives are also filled with pain, and that his attempts to ignore or escape from suffering are fruitless. Although Mac resists Sophie and her faith in God for a long while, in the end he discovers the redemptive power of love.
Set mainly in Afghanistan, the novel is filled with intriguing glimpses into life in an exotic, war-torn country. The author presents interesting details (many of which, the author acknowledges, come from her husband’s descriptions of his experiences as a police trainer in Afghanistan) of the Afghan countryside and customs as well as life on base. For example, Mac at one point notes that in Afghanistan “beards were honored as the sign of an elder.” At their best, the images reveal a character’s feelings or mindset, as when Mac compares the bright orange sky to “the color of ice cream on a stick I bought as a kid” or when he notes how Sophie, clearly disappointed in his lack of responsiveness, “unwrapped herself from my arm, like removing last year’s worn jacket.” While reading, I often found myself marveling at the strength of an image or a bit of dialogue, such as the time when Sophie asks Mac, who gives her so little emotional support, “Can’t you just pick me up some flowers?”
“Flowers from Afghanistan,” directed at a Christian audience, is about redemption from suffering. Mac, despite his obtuseness, does grow in faith and ability to love. To me, however, despite the novel’s exemplary use of metaphorical language, Mac and the other characters remain essentially flat and one-dimensional, and the most crucial relationships lack development. Little Mac’s death and Mac’s flight to Afghanistan, for instance, both come too quickly in the book, so that we aren’t immediately drawn into the story and don’t really understand Mac’s motivations. While perhaps not sophisticated enough for a wide adult audience, with some revision “Flowers from Afghanistan” could appeal to YA readers.
MWSA Review by Nancy Arbuthnot (July 2018)
Weighed down by guilt following the death of his two-year-old son, Mac McCann accepts a year-long position training police officers in Afghanistan. Leaving his wife Sophie to grieve alone, he hopes the life-or-death distractions of his self-imposed exile will build a wall between him and his pain.
As camaraderie builds between Mac and the men on base---including a local barber and his precocious little boy---Mac's heart becomes invested in stories beyond his own tragedy and he learns he is not the only one running from loss. But when the hour of attack arrives, will he be able to see past his guilt to believe there's still something---and someone---worth living for?
With touching details based on true events, Flowers from Afghanistan is a redemptive journey of healing, a chronicle of hope in crisis, and a testament to the faithfulness of God through it all.
ISBN/ASIN: ISBN 978-1-5223-0116-5 ASIN B07BZ2CWXQ
Book Format(s): Hard cover
Genre(s): Fiction, Literary Fiction
Review Genre: Fiction—Literary Fiction
Number of Pages: 200