While this is a novel and not a memoir or biography, this book provides an interesting window into the world of expat workers and consultants in troubled areas of the world. It illustrates the tension between staying safe and experiencing life in the new place, as well as the various motivations that draws people to these places. It maybe a missionary streak, a need to challenge oneself, a desire to help, or the drive to profit from the situation.
The first paragraph instantly conveys the mood of the setting:
Winter was premonition. We know something was going to happen. We saw it in the desolation and poverty, the gusting indeterminate scraps, the men pushing trash carts, their figures like engravings of the plague, heads wrapped in tattered keffiyehs; or the smog of traffic, wood fires, and diesel generators – the effluvium of four million souls desperate to heat concrete and earthen homes – mixing with dust in the thin, chill mountain air and hanging over the city in blunt journalistic metaphors: shrouds, palls, and, of course, veils. Snow fell, churned into mud that rutted and froze. Pipes burst. Handy men returned to our doors, grim and extortionate, like doctors.
Kabul in winter is inhospitable to most of its inhabitants. For expats, there is the addition of the fears of this foreign environment, the feeling of being a target for the sole reason of being different or being perceived as an unwanted intruder in a complex, fraught situation.
The story is told by five voices: a Japanese writer, an American teacher, an American security contractor, a Canadian lawyer, and an Afghani youth. They all become linked in the story, so some of the events are told from different points of view, which slowly reveal the design behind an event that might originally have been thought to be accidental…
What surprised me in the book is the relative absence of organized armed forces or peace keeping and the heavy presence of private security contractors.
This book was very satisfying in the way scenes and action combined with description to make the setting come alive. I could really see, in my head, the settings and actions moving along with great clarity as if seen through the eyes of the narrator.
Béchard, Deni Ellis. Into the Sun. House of Anansi Press, 2016.