Drama set in Tajikstan
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Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team
I enjoyed this book very much indeed, it's excellent and so unusual. It's set in 2007/8, in Tajikistan, one of those countries that used to be part of the USSR; I'm ashamed to say that I didn't know where it is, but looked it up (it borders China and Afghanistan).
The Disobedient Wife of the title could refer to Harriet Simenon, ex-pat wife of a Belgian diplomat who is unhappy in her current surroundings, or her home help/nanny Nargis, a young mother who has suffered much over the years; her first husband, who she loved dearly, died from cancer caused by toxic waste, and her second husband was violent. Under Tajikistan tradition, Nargis is seen as a fallen woman because she left him; he kept their son with him. I like book titles that could refer to more than one aspect of a book; it might also apply to a friend of Nargis who rebels against her controlling husband by taking a lover, a decision that has terrible consequences.
Nargis's life is one of harsh drudgery, but she's a fighter and I loved her character. Aside from the fact that the story is so well planned out and beautifully written, I was fascinated by the insight into the lives of the people of this country, and the effects of the release from Russia's control.
At the beginning of the novel, English Harriet comes across as shallow, selfish and self-obsessed, but as her own marriage runs into difficulty and her friendships with her ex-pat friends are shown to be superficial, her relationship with Nargis deepens, and she begins to understand her strength, and examine her own way of life.
The story is written most from alternating points of view of Nargis and Harriet (some of Harriet's is written in the form of her journal, which gives yet another insight), with occasional chapters looking at Harriet's revolting ex-husband, who becomes involved with some dangerous people in an effort to better himself.
I was completely engrossed all the way through this book. There's plenty going on, it's quite a page-turner, and it's as well written as any best seller by an established writer (and probably better than many). Highly recommended, I think it would be enjoyed by readers who love gritty crime/real life drama and more emotional women's fiction alike, as it's a mix of these two genres. Big thanks to the author for educating me about this country, too.