No More Mulberries
Set in Afghanistan, No More Mulberries tells the story of British midwife Miriam and her Afghan husband, Dr Iqbal. From the opening of the novel it is clear their marriage is heading towards crisis point. Iqbal has changed from the easy-going, fun-loving man Miriam married and she doesn’t know why. Hoping time apart might help she defies him to attend a medical teaching camp as a translator. When an old friend appears, Miriam sets off on a journey into her past to confront the devastating loss of her first husband. She has to face up to how her own actions may have damaged her relationship with Iqbal. No More Mulberries is a story of cultural differences, loss, divided loyalties, commitment and love.
I wrote No More Mulberries after I’d published a non-fiction account of my work in Afghanistan. Realising not everyone reads non-fiction I thought a novel might reach a wider audience. I particularly wanted to portray what life is like in rural Afghanistan for ordinary people; the people who get on with living their lives away from the media headlines – and I wanted to present that portrayal within a page-turning story.
I lived for several years in Afghanistan working on low key health projects training women as health volunteers who could then teach basic health care to their families and neighbours. I spent a great deal of time living in rural villages, often with only my three-year-old son as the only other English speaker – and he spoke better Dari than I did. Those experiences gave me a unique insight into life for women and their families, which I believe I have portrayed authentically in No More Mulberries
Although No More Mulberries is a novel and the storyline and characters are invented many of the events – such as the story of the abandoned baby, incidents which happen in the teaching camp (including the attempt to get the wrong couple together for a sperm check) are based on reality.
I have had some lovely reviews of No More Mulberries and the ones which give me the most satisfaction are the ones who ‘get it’ from readers who have realised there is much more to ordinary, everyday life in Afghanistan than the media would have us believe. Yes, life is hard, sometimes very harsh; yes, there is poverty; yes some women have unhappy marriages (isn’t this true anywhere in the world?); yes, there are serious holes in health care provision and education. I don’t deny any of this but I set out to show in No More Mulberries that this is not the whole picture.
No More Mulberries opens a window onto real life in parts of rural Afghanistan. Not only does it provide a fascinating glimpse into how ordinary people cope with the reality of living with poverty, hardship, lack of health provision and with a constant backdrop of war it is a cracking good read – filled with humour, pathos, feisty women – and, love.
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