Reviewed by Kristin Grabarek
Francesca Marciano has taken her readers to Kenya in Rules of the Wild, and to Italy in Casa Rossa; this time, she takes her readers to the blighted, thrilling country of Afghanistan. The End of Manners is a captivating story of a mismatched pair of women journalists covering what they soon realize is an impossible assignment in a place most Westerners visit only through the morning headlines and the evening news.
The narrator of the adventure, food photographer Maria Galante, is hand-picked by confident and successful journalist Imo Glass, to report on Afghan women who attempted to commit suicide to avoid arranged marriages. Maria leaves for Afghanistan prepared only with a brutal survival training course in England, and equipped with her camera and a series of ill-chosen articles of clothing.
Maria’s time in Afghanistan is a series of tedious and futile interviews with NGO workers who refuse to risk exposing women, men firmly rooted in tradition, and women who know the consequences of sharing their stories. Maria and Imo confront the complex dynamics with which Afghans grapple against the startling backdrop of a war-torn country decorated with cell phone advertisements.
The End of Manners is a poignant depiction of Afghanistan as experienced by Westerners not entirely unlike ourselves. The beauty of the novel is in how easily and readily readers are caught up wanting the heroine to be braver, before realizing that they also would not be braver. Thus you are able to identify with the heroine, in contrast to familiar characters in similar novels that are too strong and too resilient to be real to Western readers. By making Maria real in this way, Francesca Marciano also makes Afghanistan real.
This stunning novel takes Western readers behind our headlines and news clips to a place that does exist, that is not easily understood, and that, as Maria accepts, cannot be condensed into our photographs and articles.
Armchair Interviews says: Up close and personal look at Afghanistan.