Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The End of Manners - Francesca Marciano

Prior to picking up this book, I read a number of amazing reviews. The book is described as "brilliant" and "courageous and painful, not to be missed." And, of course it has a wonderful cover suggesting that it is full of literary treasures. So, perhaps my expectations were a bit high, but sadly, they definitely were not met. The main character, Maria, is a young photojournalist who after suffering anxiety attacks has taken herself off her fast-track career path. While Maria's reaction to her work is realistic given the subject matter she covers, right off the bat, I felt Marciano did a poor job capturing this and made Maria seem flighty and unprofessional. Maria is then suddenly paired with an aggressive female journalist, Imogen Glass, for an article about women who commit self-immolation in Afghanistan - primarily in response to being married off to much older men. Maria takes part in a militaristic survival retreat, again consistently making her look whiny and pathetic, and she finally flies off to Kabul, where Marciano makes clear over and over again, the women do not appreciate being photographed and that gaining such personal access to them will prove quite difficult. The book is then a series of dangerous encounters, Imogen consitently ignoring cultural mores and offending people in an attempt to get her story. Maria, on the other hand, remaining aware of the difficulties, but standing passively by watching her co-worker blow the assignment. This book dealt with interesting issues - I'm always up for a commentary on the treatment of women in deeply religious cultures and their attempts to exercise their independence. But, I did not understand the point Marciano was trying to make with respect to journalists in foreign countries - whether getting the story at any price is important to educate the rest of the world, and that people who risk their lives to do so should be commended, or whether such an approach is properly viewed as invasive and disrespectful. There is another journalist character in the book - a woman from France who has spent years in the country getting to know the women and developing a relationship with them - she is the one with photographs and real stories. But, her character is not much developed, and there is a question of how much she will eventually do with the years she has spent on a single issue. While The End of Manners raised interesting questions given the chosen subject matter, I did not feel as if there was much to be impressed by in the execution.

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