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The good folks at the book publicity firm, FSB Associates, have been sending us titles for at least six years now and a couple of us more conservative reviewers even have our own handler, who knows which ones are more likely to appeal to us. But the other day we got an e-mail from him saying that the latest book he was representing would be rather unusual fare for us, but something we might like anyway. He's so seldom wrong that I told him to go ahead and send it and I'd at least give it a try. The Book of Trouble arrived several days later, with its subtitle, "A Romance," and cover photo of a woman reclining just screaming "You'll hate this!"... but, I figured after reading a chapter or two I could let the tiger out of the cage and honestly say I'd given it a shot....

Three hours later I turned the last maddening page and had to admit he was right--it is a danged unusual book, but it makes for compulsive reading. Ann Marlowe, the author, is by just about equal turns one of the most annoying women whose train wreck of a romance you could ever end up reading about and one of the most insightful observers of love, modern sexual culture, the Middle East, Islam, and a variety of other coincidental issues you could hope to stumble upon. First of all, I have to admit it took me about a hundred pages before I was sure I was reading a memoir and not a peculiarly politicized romance novel--thankfully there was finally an e-mail reprinted in which she used her own name. But the central story relates her ill-fated love affair with a young man from Afghanistan. This is the part that's annoying, because not only is she Jewish and he ten years younger than her, but he won't even speak to his brother because he married a Persian instead of a Pashtun and at a dinner party declares: "The Western idea of romantic love is an illusion. I don't believe in it. I want to have an arranged marriage. I want to marry an Afghan girl. A seventeen-year-old virgin." There can't be a reader who thinks their ensuing relationship is going to work out well, so we're left wanting to shake Ms Marlowe to her senses as she deludes herself about its potential.

However, there's another Ann Marlowe in the book and several other storylines. Not only has she traveled in and written about the Middle East, for publications as different as National Review and Salon, but she's dined with Abdul Rashid Dostum in Afghanistan and met with Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq. Her disquisitions on Islamic culture, which she generally holds in very high regard, are an especially welcome change of pace from the unbalanced portrait we're getting from so many other Western authors these days. One of the things folk seemingly choose not to think about is why one billion people would willingly choose to be Muslim if it's as horrible a lifestyle as the caricature that's presented. Ms Marlowe has, quite literally, peered behind the veils and penetrated to the heart of Islamic society and found there societies that, though hardly idyllic, offer consolations that our own does not, especially in the realms of family and respect for traditions. Seeing the value in both Eastern and Western culture, she can imagine them being reconciled:
We like to place on one side civil society, public institutions, the legal and social equality of men and women, and the right to pursue reason where it leads. And on the other side are tribal or clan society, the embrace of the extended family, patriarchy, and the dominance of tradition. But just as masculinity and femininity are not polarities but complementary concepts that don't make sense without each other, so West and East are a pair that exist in dynamic tension.
Likewise, she makes some telling observations about the wreckage of the sexual revolution:
We've lost the structure that made Victorian courtship gracious and satisfying, and that helped Victorian marriage endure. What's left are the stray symbols, which loom larger now that the rest of the culture has dissolved: the red rose, Valentine's Day, the engagement ring, the white dress. And people with any kind of individual sensibility are embarrassed by them, even as they're secretly moved--because they evoke a world we miss, no matter how much we scorn it.
And, despite a series of seeming strikes against the possibility--a single Jewish woman New Yorker who used heroin recreationally for years and sings the praises of casual sex--she's rather conservative, or at least neoconservative. As she tells her lover:
I believe in the war; I think we should remove Saddam. I don't know if Iraq has weapons of mass destruction; in fact, I doubt it. Like the Soviet Union in its last days, Iraq is too mismanaged and impoverished to be a military threat to the United States. But Saddam is an evil man who regularly slaughters his own people, and as a Jew, I feel that if I'm not willing to support American intervention to save innocent people, I have no right to complain that the world stood by as the Nazis slaughtered the Jews.
So you combine all of the really useful political and cultural analysis with the obvious blindness about her romance and you can't help but be frustrated by the contradictions. You kind of have to trust that by the end she'll have learned something important from the affair. And she doesn't disappoint:
I think of something Luisa said to me recently when I reminisced about Amir. "You know," I told her, "even if things had gone well, even if we were still seeing each other, I wonder if I'd be happy. It was all about Amir's problems and Amir's anxieties. I don't know that he would have been able to help me if I were depressed or had a real problem. He didn't offer me very much in some ways."

And Luisa, usually so cynical, looked grave and said something that silenced me: "Except for the the gift of loving someone, which is incalculable."
You can forgive her everything that's come before when she reaches that point.


Grade: (B+)


Ann Marlowe Links:

    -AUTHOR PAGE: Ann Marlowe (Basic Books)
    -AUTHOR PAGE: Ann Marlowe (Virago)
    -BOOK SITE: The Book of Troubles by Ann Marlowe (Harcourt Books)
    -BLOG: Ann Marlowe in Afghanistan (Ann Marlowe, LA Weekly)
    -EXCERPT: from The Book of Trouble: Making love across generations: In an excerpt from her new memoir, Ann Marlowe ponders why she has been drawn to romances with much older -- and younger -- men. (Ann Marlowe, Salon)
    -ESSAY: What's wrong with American men and women?: My skillful Turkish bed mate told me, in vivid detail. (Ann Marlowe, July 29, 2003, Salon)
    -Ann Marlowe (Bold Type)
    -ESSAY: Author Essay (Ann Marlowe, Bold Type)
    -EXCERPT: from How to Stop Time
    -ESSAY: The Most Neo-Con Movie Ever Made: Avatar's deeply conservative, pro-American message. (Ann Marlowe, 12.23.09, Forbes)
    -ESSAY: Shameless: Have American men and women lost all sense of shame before each other? (Ann Marlowe, May 21, 2004, National Review)
    -ESSAY: A REPORTER'S DEATH (Ann Marlowe, August 4, 2005, NY Post)
    -ESSAY: Burqas and ballots: In one of the most male-dominated nations on earth, Afghan vice presidential candidate Shafiqa Habibi doesn't play second fiddle to anyone. (Ann Marlowe, October 8, 2004, Salon)
    -ESSAY: The Great Protector: Preparing Iraq for the rule of law (Ann Marlowe, April 20, 2004, National Review)
    -ESSAY: The Afghan Model: What’s wrong. What’s right. What we can learn (Ann Marlowe, March 19, 2003, National Review)
    -ESSAY: “Warlordsâ€? and “Leadersâ€?: The hidden agendas behind press coverage of the Afghan war. (Ann Marlowe, February 18, 2002, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Pride and Prejudice: Women’s career achievement and individual choice (Ann Marlowe, January 28, 2002 , National Review)
    -ESSAY: Going to Work: The real meaning of the World Trade Center attacks (Ann Marlowe, September 13, 2002, National Review)
    -ESSAY: The hypocrite of Kabul: Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad parachuted into Afghanistan and told the West exactly what it wanted to hear about that nation's women. The truth, as usual, is more complicated. (Ann Marlowe, November 17, 2003, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Check, please: Some argue that the convention of men paying for women is a harmless gallantry, like holding a door open. I beg to differ. (Ann Marlowe, May 4, 2002, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Bring back the draft: Compulsory, nonmilitary national service would keep our newfound spirit of national unity alive (Ann Marlowe, Oct. 5, 2001, Salon)
    -ESSAY: "The price of milk (and sex) in Cuba" (Ann Marlowe, February 11, 2002, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Hell Is Other Bands (Ann Marlowe, August 19 - 25, 1998, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Of Course (Ann Marlowe, November 12 - 18, 1997, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: The Politics of Home (Ann Marlowe, 18 March 2005, Los Angeles Weekly)
    -ESSAY: No intercourse, please -- we're enlightened: Sensitive, feminized and resentful, today's young men no longer have the sexual authority to please a woman -- no matter how much oral sex they perform. (Ann Marlowe, October 1, 2003, Salon)
-ESSAY: No such thing as a free dinner: When a man foots the bill, is it just a harmless act of generosity - or is something more insidious going on? Ann Marlowe, 8/8/2002, Guardian Newspapers)
    -ESSAY: South Of Heaven (Ann Marlowe, August 18, 1992, The Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Young and beautiful - rock at Princeton University (Ann Marlowe, March 1993, ArtForum)
    -ESSAY: Money Shot Fever: The current displays of jism only prove how passé men have become. (Ann Marlowe, April 24, 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Women's magazines are dead: The death of Mirabella is a leading indicator of a new reality: Gender roles just aren't as important in daily life anymore. (Ann Marlowe, May 5, 2000, Salon)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Pros and amateurs: One way or another, men still expect to pay for sex -- and women pay for it, too, by keeping their financial goals low. (Ann Marlowe, Feb. 24, 2000, Salon)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Wages of sin: Are Candace Bushnell's heroines looking for love or practicing the world's oldest profession? (Ann Marlowe, Sept. 22, 2000, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of The Fall of Baghdad by Jon Lee Anderson (Ann Marlowe, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai (Ann Marlowe, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of South Park Conservatives by Brian Anderson (Ann Marlowe, May 15, 2005, New York Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Neocon Reader by Irwin M. Stelzer (Ann Marlowe, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Civilization and Its Enemies" by Lee Harris: In a brilliant response to the quandaries of 9/11, a ferociously independent thinker argues that only the United States has the moral credibility to lead (Ann Marlowe, February 25, 2004, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni (Ann Marlowe, LA Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of I'm Wild Again by Helen Gurley Brown (Ann Marlowe, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs at the Turn of the Millennium Edited by John Bowe, Marisa Bowe and Sabin Streeter (Ann Marlowe, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Money, a Memoir by Liz Perle (Ann Marlowe, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson (Ann Marlowe, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Wifework: What Marriage Really Means For Women by Susan Maushart (Ann Marlowe, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Kate Sekules The Boxer's Heart: How I Fell in Love With the Ring; & Lynn Snowden Picket Looking for a Fight (Ann Marlowe, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of Sex and Real Estate: Why We Love Houses By Marjorie Garber (Ann Marlowe, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey into Manhood and Back Again, by Norah Vincent (Ann Marlowe, NY Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell (Ann Marlowe, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: of Black Studies, Rap, and the Academy by Houston Baker (Ann Marlowe, ArtForum)
    -REVIEW: of The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writing (Ann Marlowe, ArtForum)
    -REVIEW: of THE NIGHT MY MOTHER MET BRUCE LEE: Observations on Not Fitting In. By Paisley Rekdal (Ann Marlowe, NY Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVES: "Ann Marlowe" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES: Ann Marlowe (Byliner)
    -ARCHIVES: Stories by Ann Marlowe (AlterNet)
    -ARCHIVES: Ann Marlowe (Salon)
    -Technorati Tag: Ann Marlowe
    -INTERVIEW & PODCAST: Virgin Territory: Falling for a younger man who wants an arranged marriage. (NextBook, 1/06/06)
    -INTERVIEW: with Ann Marlowe (Virago)
    -PROFILE: A Taboo Passion (Harvard Magazine, March/April 2000)
    -ESSAY: Ann Marlowe, the Memoir, and the Self-Made Man (Tony Dokoupil, 02.22.2006, New Partisan)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Trouble: A Romance By Ann Marlowe (The Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of the Book of Trouble (Tessa Brown, The Forward)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Trouble (Frances Lefkowitz, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Trouble (Margaret Marr,
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Trouble (The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z by Ann Marlowe (The Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Craig Seligman, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (David Gates, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Jacob Sullum, Reason)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Courtney Weaver, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Rhonda Lieberman, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Karl Monger, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Damon Smith, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Norene Cashen, MetroTimes)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (KEVIN SAMPSELL, The Stranger)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (JOSHUA TYREE, Isthmus Daily Page
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Patricia H. Mark, Canadian Medical Association Journal)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Richard von Busack, MetroActive)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (EVE MACSWEENEY, Evening Standard)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Ingrid Schorr, Hermenaut)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Dennis Giron, Tribes)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Christian Perring, Ph.D., LifeWatch)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Ruth Mountaingrove)
    -REVIEW: of How to Stop Time (Christopher Hirst, The Independent)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: Cousin Marriage Conundrum: The ancient practice discourages democratic nation-building (Steve Sailer, Jan. 13, 2003, The American Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Chalabi's Charade: The Neocons' Man in Iraq (Steve Sailer, July 5, 2004, The American Conservative)