July 21st, 2006

Books!

Another odd one ...

I guess it's possible, as in the famed Freud quote, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.", that this (like the last reviewed book), is just an adventure story. There is precious little in Morag Murray Abdulah's My Khyber Marriage to make one think that it is some sort of teaching parable. I do find it interesting, however, that this dates to the same time as the previous book (the period after WW1), and wonder if there is some sort of information being "triangulated" by these publications.

As I've noted previously, it seems that Octagon (and Idries Shah's various other publishing ventures) rarely, if ever, put out material that does not in some way reflect Sufi teachings, or point to social elements which could indicate survivals or incursions of such teachings. These past few books on Afghanistan (or, in this case, the Pushtun tribal lands which the author distinguishes as separate from Afghanistan) seem to have no overt purpose in that direction. It did cross my mind that perhaps Shah was having these "antique" books reprinted in 1990 to provide some "background" on the civil war then raging in his homeland. However, it would seem an odd approach to simply give airing to two views of traditional Afghan tribal existence (where a more expository book drawing on these and other sources might have been a more efficient route to that goal) if that was the case. Interestingly, Shah's own mother was a Scottish national who married into an Afghan family (in a similar time frame as the author's story), so it also occurred to me that this might be a "paraphrase" of his parents' early years together, presented in a fictionalized form, and not actually a book by the supposed author (although she does have another book, a follow-up to this, it was published in 1997 by Octagon, suggesting that it was probably written in the interim ... again, no trace of "the original publication" of either book seems to be out there).

Be that as it may, My Khyber Marriage is interesting enough, providing a look at the "inner world" of the Afghan tribal culture, behind the fort walls, and in the "forbidden" women's quarters. As was the case in my previous review, I found many of the "exploits" in this just a bit too contrived ... it seems like the protagonist managed to "work wonders" in the social environment she was in, while defying her husband and father-in-law at nearly every turn to rush out on ill-advised adventures. Some of these were based around her wanting to see what was behind some of the "superstitions" of her Afghan family ... providing the only "mystical" elements in the book ... but all seemed slightly implausible given both the era and the setting. I don't know if this is to highlight them to point to a "message" or is simply a modern pen not taking full account of the mores of another time. The book also ends quite suddenly. The protagonist and her family go on an extended visit in India (with no seeming point except to perhaps put in some digs at both the British colonial system and the Hindus), an are at the last called back to Scotland where the book just stops, leaving the reader unfulfilled with the narrative.

As this is an Octagon book, it is still in print, and quite pricey ... $30 at retail, and not much better via the new/used vendors. As I suggested on the previous book, this is one that, were you for some reason interested in picking up, might be something to look for at your local used book store!


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