As I’ve just returned from a trip to Uganda it seems fitting to welcome Mary Smith to the Linda’s Book Bag today to take me on my travels again at the same time as we stay in together, as you’ll see below! It’s a welcome return for Mary as I thoroughly enjoyed her collection of stories Donkey Boy and have reviewed them here.
If you’re an author who’d also like to stay in with me to tell me about one of your books, please click here for more details.
Staying in with Mary Smith
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Mary. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought my novel, No More Mulberries, which tells the story of Scottish-born midwife, Miriam living in Afghanistan with her Afghan husband, Dr Iqbal. She knows their relationship is in trouble. Her husband has changed from the loving, easy-going man she married and she fears he regrets taking on a widow with a young son, who seems determined to remain distant from his stepfather.
When Miriam acts as translator at a medical teaching camp she hopes time apart might help her understand the cause of their problems. Instead, she must focus on helping women desperate for medical care and has little time to think about her failing marriage. When an old friend appears, urging her to visit the village where once she and her first husband had been so happy, Miriam finds herself travelling on a journey into her past, searching for answers to why her marriage is going so horribly wrong. Iqbal, too, must deal with issues from his own past – from being shunned by childhood friends when he contracted leprosy to the loss of his first love.
I’ve chosen to share it because I became very fond of my characters – and because I still miss Afghanistan, where I worked for a number of years, and am always delighted to have an opportunity to revive my memories.
(I love travel and a trip to Afghanistan, albeit vicariously, is perfect thanks Mary.)
What can we expect from an evening in with No More Mulberries?
You can expect to be transported to Afghanistan, to one of its most remote areas in the foothills of the Hindu Kush. You can expect to spend time in the villages becoming involved in the lives of the people – and you can expect to be surprised because life in Afghanistan may come across differently from how it’s portrayed in the media. You can also expect to smile sometimes and perhaps shed a tear or two at other times.
(Aha! I love a book where I can have a cry whilst I’m reading!)
One of my favourite reviews on Amazon says:
Excellent. In the same genre as The Kite Runner and a Thousand Splendid Sons but from an entirely different angle, that of an educated Scots woman who lives in Afghanistan with her Afghan husband… it was an easy and interesting story and yet I learned so many different things about the culture of the Afghans … Life in the Afghan village with its traditions and customs were so different and difficult to understand for an outsider, as well as having the complications of her personal life. Read this book, I think everyone who does will have more understanding of both Afghans and Muslims than before as well as being entertained by a darn good story!
I’m proud of that ‘darn good story’.
I bet you are. What a wonderful review. No More Mulberries sounds brilliant.
What else have you brought along and why?
I see many of your guests have brought along champagne but it wasn’t available in Afghanistan. I could have brought some Uzbek red wine – but it was for the chickens and belongs in a different book – so I brought some Afghan food to share. There has to be mulberries, of course, Miriam’s favourite fruit. I loved them, too, but can only find dried ones here.
(I have a friend with a mulberry tree so I’ll have to put you in touch with one another.)
Afghans make the best kebabs in the world, served hot off the skewer wrapped in a fresh nan which soaks up the juices. We can have kabuli rice topped with raisins and strips of carrots glistening with oil and little leek-filled dumplings which are delicious. Or we can go simpler with ash – pasta – served with quroot, a rock-hard sour cheese made from buttermilk which is re-hydrated into a sauce. It really tastes much better than it sounds. One of my favourite dishes – perhaps because it is easily reproduced at home – is banjan-sia borani. This is egg-plant (aubergine) slices fried and served with cooked tomatoes, topped with a sour cream and yoghurt garlicky sauce and dried mint.
My mouth is watering at the thought. Thanks so much for staying in with me Mary. I’ve had a brilliant time.
No More Mulberries
Scottish-born midwife, Miriam loves her work at a health clinic in rural Afghanistan and the warmth and humour of her women friends in the village, but she can no longer ignore the cracks appearing in her marriage. Her doctor husband has changed from the loving, easy-going man she married and she fears he regrets taking on a widow with a young son, who seems determined to remain distant from his stepfather.
When Miriam acts as translator at a medical teaching camp she hopes time apart might help her understand the cause of their problems. Instead, she must focus on helping women desperate for medical care and has little time to think about her failing marriage.
When an old friend appears, urging her to visit the village where she and her first husband had been so happy. Miriam finds herself travelling on a journey into her past, searching for answers to why her marriage is going so horribly wrong.
Her husband, too, has a past of his own – from being shunned as a child to the loss of his first love.
No More Mulberries is available for purchase here.
About Mary Smith
Mary Smith has always loved writing. As a child she wrote stories in homemade books made from wallpaper trimmings – but she never thought people could grow up and become real writers. She spent a year working in a bank, which she hated – all numbers, very few words – ten years with Oxfam in the UK, followed by ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She wanted others to share her amazing, life-changing experiences so she wrote about them – fiction, non-fiction, poetry and journalism. And she discovered the little girl who wrote stories had become a real writer after all.
Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is an account of her time in Afghanistan and her debut novel No More Mulberries is also set in Afghanistan.