Book reviews: new non-fiction from Rod Nordland, Megan Henley and Caroline Jones
Trying to love in Afghanistan, suffering at the hands of an online conman, and surviving the secret shameful world of bulimia – this week’s selections
by Rod Nordland
Hodder & Stoughton (e-book)
Mohammad Ali and Zakia have been dubbed Afghanistan’s Romeo and Juliet because their relationship was doomed from the start: though neighbours in the Bamiyan Valley, they were from different sides of the tracks: he was a Hazara and Shia Muslim, she a Tajik and Sunni. But their hearts did not discriminate and during their teens the couple decided to go public about their desire to wed, thus risking their lives: Zakia’s parents and her brothers and cousins all would then devote their lives to hunting the pair down for being in love. In 2014 New York Times correspondent Rod Nordland appeared in the couple’s complicated lives, giving them the sort of exposure that put them at further risk at the same time as it afforded them protection. He also abetted their escape (providing getaway cars; slipping Ali US$1,000), thus raising eyebrows about his journalistic neutrality. His actions helped the pair flee criminal charges (Ali had been accused of kidnapping his wife). The Lovers brings into relief the appalling status of women in Afghanistan and forces readers to think about the unpalatable subject of honour killing. Ali and Zakia’s story is not one that ends neatly wrapped.
by Megan Henley and Linda Watson Brown
Harper Element (e-book)
This is the kind of book you read despite knowing it’s all going to end badly, which it does. But it’s such a twisted story it will probably be made into a movie, rivalling the likes of Gone Girl. There’s also a possibility the flick will be called Catfish, which apparently means to “lure someone into a relationship by adopting a fictional online persona”. Megan Henley is the victim and “Vic”, the man she meets online through Facebook, is the nutcase who would make her life hell. Believing he must be okay because they had friends in common, Henley allows him into her world. The man had, however, set up hundreds of fake FB profiles and chatted to her via different personas, making her believe he was part of a Romany gypsy family involved in rape and murder. “He created all of these characters with the sole purpose of scaring me, then having me see him as my knight,” Henley writes. The discovery comes only after unimaginable trauma involving not just her but also the child they have together. The only lesson to be learned from this is to be careful on social media.
by Caroline Jones
Audible Studios (audiobook)
Thinking it would help if he used code to ask his daughter about her eating disorder, Caroline Jones’ father would say to her: “How’s the bully?” Bulimia, which the author kept to herself for 14 years, was so painful a subject to acknowledge that Jones found it hard to talk about it in the present tense. But she openly explains to readers how it felt to binge and purge, stuffing sweets and bread into her mouth for three to four hours, then consuming tea to ease the process of bringing it all back up. The lack of control, the shame and the exhaustion of the act make for uncomfortable reading. Possibly more difficult to accept, however, is that Jones was among fellow bulimics at her English boarding school: a friend showed her the ropes. Jones’ narrative jumps around, but that underscores a childhood hopping from country to country: while her parents put out fires as aid workers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Pakistan, she coped with a privileged existence in cold England. The book, narrated at an even pace by Antonia Beamish, is subtle where it needs to be but is also a therapeutic emotional outpouring.