Despite the many international and regional power struggles that have plagued Afghanistan over the years, it is supposed to be a beautiful country with stunning landscapes and a rich cultural heritage.
Based on the author’s personal experience (Kate McCord is a pseudonym), the novel Farewell Four Waters brings the people and customs of Afghanistan alive, and caused me to think differently about the country.
The author was actually an aid worker in Afghanistan for five years, until 2010, and the main character is based on her experiences. The main character, Marie, is an American who works as an aid worker, based in the small fictional village of Shehktan, outside Kabul. The novel begins with Marie in Kabul, seeking stamps and signatures from the government in order to hold women’s literacy classes in her little village. While in Kabul, she receives a phone call that another female aid worker has been gunned down on the streets of Kabul. Now feeling vulnerable, this precipitous event signals the beginning of the end of Marie’s time in Afghanistan.
Returning home to Shehktan, Marie begins the literacy classes and forges new friendships in the tiny neighboring town of Char Ab. She feels called to minister to the women of Afghanistan, but she is unaware of a dangerous local feud, involving the families of some of her Afghani friends and colleagues.
During the 14 days from the Kabul murder until Marie’s sudden escape, we see her journey in finding God in the storms of life. From the announcement of her friend and roommate’s departure, to the injustices of how women are treated by Afghan society, to the fear that she is being stalked, Marie learns that God is in everything–good and bad.
I think this book was successful in getting the reader to have a different perspective on Afghanistan. The author describes it as a beautiful country filled with kind people and strong family ties, and not just a news headline. I learned a lot about Afghani culture, and the customs, however different from ours, that permeate their everyday lives. The interactions between Marie and the Afghani women also gave insight into their cultural norms, as the local women discussed their arranged marriages and large families.
Judging from the description on the back, I assumed the novel was going to have more action; that it would be about Marie’s treacherous journey out of the country. However, nothing really “exciting” happens until the last 80 pages or so of the 362-page book. It was more about Marie’s inner musings and quest for personal peace than of her struggle to escape Afghanistan.
And just because I’m obsessive about proofreading, I noticed that “Shehktan” as was written throughout the novel was written as “Shektan” on the back cover of the book, and that Marie was incorrectly referred to as “Maria” at one point. These are not crucial to the story, but it was a minor distraction.
While I was expecting something different, I still gleaned a lot from Farewell Four Waters. Mostly perspective and cultural awareness for a country completely different than what most Westerners have ever experienced.
*I was provided a free copy of this book from Moody Publishers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way.