by Jennifer Blake, contemporary (2002)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-898-X

Jennifer Blake explains in the afterword that this anti-Taliban/free-the-women story is written before the September 11 tragedy last year, and it is important that you and I understand that she and MIRA are not profiting from the tragedy just like all those Hollywood people are. No, this book is released on the first anniversary of the tragedy because... um... I'll let you figure that one out.

Look, sure, the Taliban treat their women like dung. Damn right they should be exposed to the world to know, if those million exploitation books published by political refugees and journalists haven't told us enough. We need Jennifer Blake's affirmative story about her hero saving our heroine who is saving Ignorant, Downtrodden Taliban Women from Evil Islam Fundamentalist Taliban Men, so much so that the said Taliban actually invaded Louisiana in the grand, exciting ending to stick it to our American Saviors of the Third World. Yo, Mr Dubya, before you go bomb evil fundies in Iraq, maybe you'd like to do some clean-up in Louisiana first. Don't want Mickey Mouse to wear a Taliban heargear and scare the kiddies now, do we?

I'm sorry, is this review too politically incorrect for you? Reading a story that seems to push an American agenda does that to me. I'm not offended - this story is too far-fetched to be offensive - but I am itching for some merciless ripping apart fun.

Our heroine Chloe Madison is trapped in Fundie Hell in a country that was Afghanistan but is now changed to some other name (because remember, nobody wants to Cash In on tragedy). See, her mother married some Fundie Guy, moved to Ex-Afghanistan with Chloe, and Suffers. Whether or not it is Ms Blake's intention, this whole mistake is painted in a most embarrassing light (embarrassing for Ms Blake, that is), with lovely prose like this one:

She'd hated the idea of living in a country so backward that electricity and running water were luxuries, New Year's was celebrated on the first day of spring according to a weird lunar calender, and nomads traveled the mountains and deserts riding horses and living in tents.

Amazing. And I thought the lunar calender is older than the Gregorian calender, and don't they have cities in the Middle East too? The things I learn from romance novels everyday, I tell you.

After our two American women suffering hell and damnation under the rule of the evil stepbrother Ahmad, our hero Wade Benedict steps in to rescue Chloe on behalf of Chloe's All-American and hence Enlightened Daddy. Chloe, however, doesn't want to be rescued unless she gets to rescue every downtrodden Taliban women first - or at least, until the book ends, whichever comes first. Lots of impressive Uncle Sam Trumps Taliban Scums things ensue, which will surely delight some but bewilder the majority of people living outside US of A who just don't understand why it is always only the Americans who get to do things right in movies and books.

Needless to say, Wade soon shows Chloe another aspect of how American men are better than everyone else: American men know foreplay! They take the time to do foreplay! (Memo to Ms Blake: All American men? Wow.) Maybe we should bring in some American men from good old USA to teach Singaporean and Malaysian men a thing or two too. After all, Americans invented cunnilingus and fellatio. Right? Next thing you'll be telling me that the Indians wrote Kama Sutra and the Arabs The Perfumed Garden. Oh please, stop feeding me Taliban propaganda. I'm not that gullible!

Now, it is one thing to write a story with noble sentiments to expose barbaric atrocities you learn third-hand from books, websites, and NGO seminars. But it is not really well-done of Ms Blake to have Chloe's sister-in-law telling her that Ahmad hates Chloe's mother because she was American and hence educated as well as more beautiful than any other woman in the place. It is not well-done at all for her to have Wade trumpeting that the "glory of Islam" is worn-out, thus reducing thousands of years of Islamic influence on modern medicine, architecture, mathematics, and science into nothing more than wild dark men in ugly headgear riding scary horses and lopping off heads of women.

This book is written before September 11, 2001? Even more a depressing statement then, for this book then proves what it actually is: a sad relic of an era of American arrogance (Afghan women beseech Cloe to flee, Chloe, to America where women are free and come back to help them!). Maybe Ms Blake doesn't want this book to end up that way, probably, but when she demonizes her villains and glamorizes her American heroes and heroines in wide brushstrokes, she makes me wonder what exactly is Wade's raison d'etre. To make Americans feel good about their country?

Whatever it is, this reader isn't buying it one bit.

Rating: 46

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