By L.J. Sellers
A mystery set in Afghanistan—you don’t read that description very often. But after a decade of US presence in the faraway country, journalist and novelist Susan Froetschel felt compelled to get inside the mind and culture of the Afghan people to see if she could find more similarities with Americans than differences.
The result, FEAR OF BEAUTY, is an “exceptionally well-written tale of love, loss, trust, and greed with appeal that reaches far beyond mystery fans”—according to PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
The premise, a mother’s loss of her son, is a universal theme that Froetschel hopes readers around the world will relate to. In the story, the boy’s mother, Sofi, must learn to read to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. But she must hide her developing literacy—as well as her doubts and investigative steps—from everyone, including her husband and children. In that climate of secrecy and suppression, she digs for the truth about her son’s murder.
Part of the story is told from the perspective of Army Special Ranger Joey Pearson, who has his own internal conflicts, as he comes to terms with his fundamentalist parents. The author tackles the thorny subject of religious control—and those who use it to their advantage—as it applies to both cultures.
Froetschel tried to travel to Afghanistan, but it didn’t work out. “I think it’s good that I didn’t,” she says. “As a tourist, the people I would have met are not the same people I was writing about. Sofi and her family are very rural. They’re farmers who live close to the land.”
The author also dispels the notion that all Afghanistan women wear burkas. Like Sofi, those who work on farms can’t be encumbered by the garment. But the title, FEAR OF BEAUTY, is grounded in a passage from the Koran that warns about being distracted by those who would commit fraud with religion. A passage that is often misconstrued and used against women.
The story has several themes but the one Froetschel points out is that, “We have more to be afraid of from people close to us who are resentful than from most strangers.”
Despite the story’s religious suppression and the death of the protagonist’s son, Froetschel strove to emphasize the beauty of the Afghan landscape as well as her own passions for organic farming and teaching.
As a career journalist, Froetschel covered the intersection of business with environmental protection, worker rights, activism, nonprofits, and health care—in places such as New York, Alaska, Boston, and Washington, DC. She also taught writing classes at Yale and journalism for Southern Connecticut State University for 10 years. Based in Michigan, she now writes and consults for YaleGlobal Online, a public-service magazine based at the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.
“You can’t separate policies from people,” she says. “Around the world, we all have the same aspirations for our families and for food security and safety.”
Froetschel is currently working on a sequel, another mystery that focuses on Sofi’s husband and the aftermath of their son’s death. Early readers and reviewers of FEAR OF BEAUTY expect her next effort to be equally thought provoking and satisfying.
Susan Froetschel is the author of three previous novels—ALASKA GRAY, INTERRUPTIONS, and ROYAL ESCAPE. In addition, she has written articles for THE NEW YORK TIMES, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, BARRON’S and many other publications. She has taught at Yale University and Southern Connecticut State University, and she is currently a consultant for YaleGlobal Online at the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.
To learn more about Susan, please visit her website.