Finding Roses In The Dust: A Journey To A New Perspective, by Erin Brynn
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/WestBow Press. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Writing travel memoirs  is something that has been done and done well for the last few centuries. When it is done best, it either introduces the reader into a world that they are unlikely to see but which might open their perspective to the experiences they are reading about. On the other hand, travel books depend for a lot of their reading value on the name recognition and official position that they hold. Most of the travel books that endure are sent by official emissaries of one realm to another–the diplomatic dispatches of Machiavelli, the diaries of Lewis and Clark, the writings of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta all come to mind here, but even this book does not reach that level, this is still a worthwhile book that is constructed around a trip that the author spent in Afghanistan as a Christian missionary, something I can identify with a bit as someone who spent some eventful time in Thailand engaged in similar efforts. This is the sort of book that becomes a lot more bearable, and perhaps even enjoyable for some, the more one understands the context of what one is dealing with. This writer is real and pretty unfiltered about her experiences, and one gets a sense of the complicated tensions that someone goes through living in a place they know to be dangerous but where they hear a call to be.
The book’s contents are laid out in chronological order in the form of letters and personal reflections on the contents of those letters on the part of the author that appear like somewhat polished diary entries. The book is organized into fourteen chapters, four of which appear in the introductory part of the book (on preparing for the journey) and the last part of the book dealing with preparing for the inevitable return home, and the other ten of which appear in the middle of the book concerning the author’s life in Afghanistan. The middle part of the book consists of a variety of matters that people who have lived in foreign countries likely remember well–the culture shock of being in an unfamiliar country, the struggles in dealing with alien legal systems and cultures, the loneliness of struggling with communication with those around you, the occasional travels to other areas to understand an area better or to vacation (the author, humorously enough, takes a vacation to Chiang Mai in the course of her trip). The author struggles with homesickness and also to appreciate modesty while retaining her godly discontent with the corrupt state of gender and ethnic identity in Afghanistan, and the reader can capture the complicated feelings and sentiments of the author as a godly professed Christian. For those readers who have themselves traveled to other nations on foreign missions, this book will provide a lot of reminders, and for those who have not, this book is a fair impression of what people think in foreign lands and how one copes with alienation and loneliness by doing a lot of thinking and a lot of writing.
The title of the book is taken from an experience that comes towards the end of the author’s time in Afghanistan, a reminder that even in a place that has as many struggles as Afghanistan does that there is beauty in the little and hardy roses that come up in that suffering land. One gets the feeling that the writer’s life has changed irrevocably as a result of her time in Afghanistan, that she will appreciate her experiences and that they will likely continue to alienate her from those around her even as they shape her inside. Yet this book is not without its problems, for all of the fact that I can identify pretty strongly with her. The biggest issue I have with the book is I cannot tell whether the author is honestly that clueless about what is going on or if she is trying to portray herself as some sort of innocent abroad. Over and over again the author shows herself as clueless–including about the brothel next door to her house, and after a while the general obliviousness of the author becomes a key part of the narrative as the author wonders whether she should notice more. Had her obliviousness and cluelessness been approached with a bit of a sense of humor this book would have been improved, but the author is an earnest one. This is the sort of book that encourages the author to feel a great deal of empathy with her and her struggles, but one wishes she was just a bit smarter and more observant. One wonders what she will think of her experiences abroad in the glow of nostalgia and hindsight.
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