Only someone who has actually served as a wartime diplomat in northern Afghanistan could craft a novel as heartbreaking, real and compelling as Patricia McArdle’s Farishta. Winner of Amazon’s 2010 Breakthrough Novel Award, Farishta is the story of 47-year-old American foreign service officer Angela Morgan, who 21 years earlier lost both her husband and her unborn baby when the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed. Still in mourning and suffering from PTSD, Angela has reached a dead end in both her personal and professional lives. An emotional wreck, she is given a choice by her U.S. State Department superiors: retire early or accept an assignment at an isolated British Army compound in the dangerous—and devastatingly poor—Balkh province of Afghanistan, where she will be the only woman and only American.

Angela’s reluctant acceptance takes her, along with readers, to a place few see: a stark area of Afghanistan where women are imprisoned for “marriage crimes,” families burn garbage for cooking fuel and archaeologists fight as hard as soldiers to save 2,000-year-old Hellenistic treasures.

New York City native and Marine Corps brat McArdle uses her more than 30 years in the U.S. diplomatic corps to bring Angela to life. Other characters equally vivid and engaging are Rahim, the Afghan translator who in many ways becomes the child Angela never had; Nilofar, a young, fearless law student who through her own work battling for Afghan women’s rights helps Angela find a new sense of purpose; and Mark Davies, a handsome British intelligence officer who helps Angela rediscover her spirit and her heart.

In the Dari language spoken in northern Afghanistan, the name Angela means “farishta” or “angel.” For many of the Afghan women and children in this novel, Angela becomes an unexpected angel. McArdle is also a real “farishta” for Afghanistan, as she demonstrates that even though the need for international military aid is coming to an end, the need for international human aid has just begun. Farishta is a fabulous debut novel, as readable as it is relevant.

Read an interview with Patricia McArdle about Farishta.

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