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by Susan Froetschel
Seventh Street, January 2013
297 pages
ISBN: 1616147024

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

For all the time that the United States has been at war in Afghanistan, it's rather surprising that we don't know more about how the people in small Afghani villages live and how they feel about the US presence. FEAR OF BEAUTY addresses that knowledge gap beautifully. It is narrated from two points of view, one a US Army Special Ranger, Joey Pearson, and the other a young mother, Sofi, in a small village named Laashekoh in Helmand Province. The US Army has set up an encampment near Laashekoh, and their mission is to help the local people build their economy. Unlike many projects, the Americans do not dictate how help will be given; rather, they go to villages and see what the people want and then help them achieve their goals. That approach doesn't sit well with Cameron Janick, who feels that the group should decide what is best for the Afghans. Joey, on the other hand, supports the agenda and struggles to tolerate the arrogant and officious Janick.

Most of the villages are suspicious about what the Americans are up to. We are introduced to the views and culture of one of the villages by Sofi, who has a reputation for increasing the production of the fields that the women in the village farm. Her observations about daily life for the Afghans are quite enlightening. Although basically peaceful, they are at the mercy of visiting Afghan forces who try to incite resistance to the Americans among the residents. The village is divided by those who believe that the Americans are up to no good and those who accept their well-intentioned intervention.

Tragedy strikes when Sofi's beloved older son is found killed at the base of a cliff where Sofi had found a box from which she took a piece of paper. She struggles to overcome her grief and finds purpose in her chance meeting with the head of the US encampment, Mita Samuelson, who has been separated from her base. Mita teaches Sofi to read, and it is then that Sofi understands the meaning of her life and is able to see what is going on in her own village.

FEAR OF BEAUTY is well written, and it is very interesting to learn about life in a typical small Afghan village and how the views of the residents are shaped by internal and external forces. It was shocking to learn that only ten percent of Afghani women are literate. I did have a few issues with the book, one being that there was too much focus on Cameron Janick and his negativity which rapidly became infuriating to me. Secondly, I found that the complex communication between Mita and Sofi, when neither knew or understood the other's language, to be implausible.

Froetschel does a wonderful job of presenting both the US and Afghan views of a very complicated situation. Afghanistan is often the setting for the standard thriller. Although exciting at times, FEAR OF BEAUTY really excels at showing the personal side of life in an extremely challenging environment.

Formerly a training development manager for a large company, Maddy is now retired and continues to enable the addiction of crime fiction fans as owner of the online discussion group, 4 Mystery Addicts(4MA), while avidly reading in every possible free moment herself.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, February 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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