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First Page: Coming to Terms

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June 17, 2017
Gereskh District Hospital,
Gereshk, Afghanistan

“Fuck, fuck, fuck….” Dr. Kai Corey chanted it like a prayer as he worked upon the young girl lying on the operating table. He just hoped that the two women who’d brought this girl to him, mute witnesses to the struggle to keep her alive, could not understand his words.

Sweat dripped from his forehead as the fierce heat of an Afghan summer day beat into the tiled operating room. None of the rooms in the small hospital were air-conditioned, since their tiny generators had to be saved for more important things, such as the ventilator that was currently pushing air in and out of this girl’s lungs. He grunted as Alice, his nurse, wiped the sweat away from his glasses before they smeared and he’d have to stop operating long enough to clean them. The heat was a bitch, but it was at least natural.

Not like the animals who’d done this to an innocent child – and why? The story Kai had pieced together from the interpreter’s quick sentences was that she’d given directions to a stranger who’d stopped her while she was getting water from the village well. Since he wasn’t her father, brother, uncle, cousin, or husband, the village elders decided that she must be some kind of slut. So they’d punished her: first by a gang-rape, then by slicing off her ears, her nose, blinding her…if that hadn’t been enough, someone had laid a curse on her – Kai could feel it, simmering under her skin, keeping her alive despite her injuries. She’d lain in the dust of the village square until two slightly elder cousins had gotten up the courage to pull her into a donkey cart and drive the forty kilometers to the district hospital at Gereshk, where the MSF held an aid mission. While he wasn’t strictly a gynecologist, Kai was the closest they had, so he had been given the task of putting the shattered bits back together.

He’d had to give up on saving her uterus but he did have hopes of keeping one of her kidneys intact. That thought, drifting into his awareness, only fuelled his rage against the animals who’d harmed her.

He continued swearing as more sweat trickled down the back of his scrub shirt, matting it to his body. He wouldn’t be able to do anything about the facial injuries, save to suture them and hope for the best. The meager facilities here weren’t equipped for any major surgeries. At last, when he’d done everything he could think of, Kai stepped back from the operating table. A uniformed orderly/security guard wheeled it away from the room, towards the small niche that held their intensive care patients. The women there would watch over her. They weren’t trained nurses, like Alice, but they were conscientious, and careful, and Kai would be on call until late tonight.

One of the women who’d come in with the girl came forward. She was older, with a severe limp and a withered arm. Kai wondered if they were due to some beating, or if she had endured an accident of some kind – but, really, did it matter? Not here. She spoke quickly, in the local dialect of Persian. Alice listened, then turned to Kai.

“She asks if Maryam will live.”

Kai’s hand went to the crucifix he wore under his scrubs. He gripped the metal so fiercely that it cut into his fingers even through the latex of his gloves and the material of his shirt. “She will,” Kai said, “if God wills it so. I have done what I could to aid Him.”

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

31 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 06:19:15

    I was intrigued by this and would read on, except for…

    The use of the word “animals”, especially twice, to refer to people of a different culture. I agree that the act was horrific, but using a dehumanizing term in this context was really off-putting. I appreciated that you have local women who are sympathetic and I certainly don’t think you need to try to make me understand the motivations of child-rapists, but I still think the word is a problem. There’s a history of Westerners justifying our own atrocities because our victims are somehow subhuman, and a Western doctor thinking of Afghan people as “animals” is too close to that, to me. I also wonder whether, given the supernatural elements of the story, the doctor might not have a different analogy he could make, based on whatever the magic system is in this world. If the character arc for the doctor involves him fighting his subtle racism, my comments are retracted, but it felt like he was being presented as a completely sympathetic character at this point, so I didn’t like the terminology.

    And I probably wouldn’t have noticed without the “animals” stuff, but I also didn’t like his assumption that the only reason the older woman had disabilities must be either violence or accident. It’s a false assumption that a doctor should know better than to make, since I’m sure there are babies born with difficulties even in Afghanistan, and it felt like another slam on the Afghan culture..,. ‘In America, women aren’t beaten and we don’t have accidents, but here in Afghanistan, the people are cruel and primitive.” As I said, this one’s nitpicky, but with my sensitivities raised, I noticed it.

    I think writing about another culture is really difficult, and I’m not saying you should be trying to whitewash the very real problems in the society. But especially with a Western POV character, I think you need to be really careful that the comments don’t come across as racist, the Great White Hope come to teach the brown folks the proper ways.

    And I should mention, I guess, that I’m assuming this is a supernatural story rather than a Christian one. If it’s a Christian one, I’m right out. I have read and enjoyed some Christian romances, but I wouldn’t be at all interested in one where the good Christian doctor ministers to the Muslim savages. Not at all.

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  2. SAO
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 07:33:38

    Too brutal for me. I wouldn’t read on.

    As mentioned above, it raises my antennae for dehumanizing Afghanis because it presents gang rape of a child as a response to exchanging a few words with a stranger. How do the village elders keep their positions of authority? How do the fundamentalist Muslim villagers accept that as any thing but a gross violation of Islam? Unless this is based on a real incident, I would find it offensive to Afghanis. I say this without ever having held the culture of Afghanistan in any esteem.

    However, even if this is based on some real event, I don’t want to read about such a disgusting culture.

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  3. Cervenka
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 08:42:04

    I hate to say this, because it really is well written, but I wouldn’t read this either. Like the first commenter, I’d stop reading right when I got to the part where the good Christian doctor appears to start calling non-Christians animals.

    Part of the issue for me is, as the other commenters have said, this appears to be from an outsider’s POV–a Westerner in Afghanistan–and thus far the outsider is pretty open about his prejudices. Even if the story is about him having to confront his prejudices, I’m not sure that’s a journey I want to take with him.

    The writing itself is quite good, though; it’s the subject matter I’m having problems with.

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  4. dick
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 09:37:42

    Lacks intensity. It needs more emphasis on the actions being taken to save a life rather than the causes or the persons that led to them being necessary.

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  5. Carolyn
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 10:00:05

    Author, perhaps you should have had them throwing acid in the child’s face. That’s well documented. Perhaps you should have had them stone her. That’s documented too.

    I agree about calling them animals. Animals don’t do things like that, but many middle eastern sects do, so animal is too good a name for them. It’s a tricky thing to write about: pc vs the ‘kill ‘em all’ crowd, you’ll never please them all.

    I liked it, for what it’s worth.

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  6. Zippy
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 10:05:53

    I am intrigued and would definately continue reading.

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  7. wikkidsexycool
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 10:19:23

    I wasn’t interested in the doctor, or reading this from his perspective. The last part about him grasping his crucifix really turned me off. I don’t think you meant to convey that he was setting up his “God” to be better than their God, but sorry, that’s how I read it.
    If this will be one of the implied conflicts in the story, like how he slowly realizes and begins to appreciate their culture and all the usual stuff in a clash of cultures but told from the perspective of a westernized protag (he may be of the same culture, I don’t know. That would set up an interesting dynamic, but there’s not enough here to go on) its a tried and true formula and I’d be interested to see how it turns into a romance somewhere in the story.

    But from the outset I’m more interested in his patient and not him. I have to agree with what’s already been said. Yes, your writing is good. But his inner dialogue is bordering on bigotry even though he’s got a right to be mad at what happened to her.

    Which also leads me to this question, why did so much happen to a young girl who simply gave directions? It’s like everything is being piled on for shock value, or for the reader to come over to the doctor’s side in thinking those in her village are truly “animals” and I’m not comfortable with that. Yes, bad things happen. But right after you say:
    “Since he wasn’t her father, brother, uncle, cousin, or husband, the village elders decided that she must be some kind of slut. So they’d punished her: first by a gang-rape, then by slicing off her ears, her nose, blinding her…”

    Who are “they?” This could be read as implying the village elders also took part, as well as most of the other males. Your assault holds more questions even if this does have a paranormal element to it, and I’d be careful with adding so many violent things happening to her without regard to who “they” are. This overly brutal attack would be something many in the world would condemn, even those in her village.

    I would read on, but if its too one sided you risk alienating some readers (like me, quite honestly) who are tired of the “here’s how I see them” viewpoint.

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  8. The Author
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 10:57:52

    First, thank you all (thus far) for the critiques. I am learning about some unspoken assumptions about my protagonist that I’ll need to shatter (somehow) before the reader is turned off. Kai is not white — he’s half Japanese and about a quarter elf/quarter “god”, though he’s in denial about the more supernatural parts of his heritage (which is why he’s super-Christian) and he’s not American. His passport is British, even though he’s not ethnically British. So he’s not going to be doing any “Whitey is Righty” restructuring of the Afghani scene. In fact, just a bit later, he commits his own atrocity in response to this.

    As for the too brutal and too over-the-top comments, I see that. I had a version that expanded on the whys but decided it was too info-dumpy. Maybe it wasn’t.

    But thank you all, yet again. I appreciate every comment and I will take them into advisement.

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  9. Tamara Hogan
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 11:48:57

    I found the religious overtones to be ethnocentric and off-putting, but was intrigued by the June 2017 dateline. It made me wonder about all the ways the world might change in the next half a decade.

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  10. Ros
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 11:56:29

    I was a bit thrown by the reference to an ‘MSF mission’. One of the most important things about MSF is that it has NO religious or political affiliations. It’s not a mission, it’s a humanitarian aid service. So I wasn’t expecting the Christian overtones either.

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  11. willaful
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 11:58:59

    I found it very interesting and would certainly read more.

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  12. anon
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 11:59:00

    Your clarification of the MC took this from a very skeptical maybe reading this to a oh forget it.

    The crucifix line was enough to turn me off completely (and hey, raised Catholic). If he is that religious, fuck wouldn’t likely be what he was chanting like a prayer to begin with, the contradiction jarring especially with nothing else resonating about his character on the first page. A brutal angsty journey done right without too much thinly veiled preaching, maybe, not likely but maybe. Throwing in elves and gods and whatever else into the mix is an absolute turn off. Took it from something I might give another two or three pages before I decide to ‘oh hell no’ wouldn’t have read the first page after glance at the blurb for it. This coming from someone who reads a lot of paranormals.

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  13. meoskop
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 12:03:48

    If he is Japanese with British immigration status, why is he using common American profanity as his go-to? Why isn’t he cursing in Japanese? I don’t have a sense of who he is before I’m given a sense of what he believes – he’s not coming across well in this page.

    I have a low threshold, personally, for atrocities in fiction. They have their place but are too often used as an easy emotional manipulation in place of stronger character / plot development. Like on the soaps when you’ve exhausted all paths, you kill a kid to reboot the stakes. So if a book opens with this, I might not stick with it.

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  14. Sunita
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 12:42:08

    Is this a romance? Because if so, I expect as a reader to be able to like or respect the character, or at least find him interesting. Here I don’t feel any of those, and since the doctor comes across to me as an angry bigot, I’m unlikely to keep reading.

    Like SAO, I’m puzzled by this atrocity being carried out by the “village elders” or at least at their behest. Speaking to a male stranger is not per se forbidden, and I cannot remember (or find from a quick search) any cases where a non-social, relatively involuntary interaction leads to this level of reprisal by official actors. Gang rapes by individuals not acting in an official capacity or as part of insurgencies are entirely different. But a child/very young woman, in public, gives directions and is then raped AND mutilated as a normal cultural response? That seems really odd to me. And if the girls and women are in such extreme purdah, how did the “slightly elder” cousins manage to commandeer a donkey cart and drive 40km?

    The fact that he’s half-Japanese and Christian doesn’t really help me, because I didn’t assume he was white (Kai Corey signaled biracial or multicultural to me). But I did assume he was a foreigner from a more developed environment, and he exhibits attitudes that are consistent with some elites that parachute into conflict zones in developing countries. That’s the problematic part for me. I want to like him, since I assume he’s one of the key characters, but I don’t have anything to hang on to.

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  15. Ea
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 14:38:24

    Hmm.. I’d not continue reading. As someone who has lived as a westerner in afghani culture and is a Christian, as well as an avid romance reader:

    1)I feel the prose style lacks urgency, especially sine the MC is in thhe middle of a lifesaving operation. It is very detached, and I am v.unlikely to sympathise with a character who wanders off on long monologues in his head while saving someone’s life.

    2) I find what happened to the girl rather a massive stretch of imagination, and definitely not the norm. Either the protagonists has absorbed his view of Afghanistan from American (definitely not British – the British have too much respect for the afghanis to think like this in general – look up the Ghurka regiment) media or is an out and out bigot.

    3) Dari -and Pashto are Persian dialects, yes. they are also two of the main languages of Afghanistan. Unless he’s just been parachuted in without bothering to read about his posting, Not calling something by its proper names massively grates on me. Also unsure if to his ears, he would be able to tell the difference between Dari, Pashto, Farsi etc. without having been there a while. In which case, he should know which it is.

    4) I had no sense of him being anything other than Ameirican (and withthethought processes and swearing definitely find him unrelateable as Christian). Maybe not white American, but definitely privileged American. I think the British tend to contextualise more in their thought process, and frame occurrences against a wider, almost empire-driven,world view.

    5) his pattern of speech and thought make him seem incredibly self involved, and incredibly young. his gasping At the horrors he’s seeing make me wonder how on earth he became a surgeon, both because he seems to young, but also because my feeling is that by the time he would have qualified as a surgeon, he’d be inured against dealing with anything other that the trauma at hand for the duration of the operation.

    6) also, putting aside my initial reluctance to believe what happened to the girl, what sort of ijjit then goes and talks, if only through an interpreter, to another woman? And references his Christian god, when the likelihood is the woman is a Muslim? Makes me want to smack him.

    Also, and this is just the sense I get, I feeling that Afghanistan is being treated as “general Muslim country” which it most definitely is not. The afghanis are very different from the Pakistanis, for instance, and take great pride in their heritage, with visible reminders of the fact many there can trace their heritage back to Alexander the Great and his troops. This is the country which has defeated every major superpower’s attempts to take it over for 2000 years. The people who live there may be bleak, heck, maybe even perpetrate the sort of atrocity you mentioned – but maybe if you reflect on the history of the place, it may make it clear why contact with foreigners is such a bad idea, rather than tarring these people with the brush of “animals”

    Apologiees for the rant, you’re a good writer. I’m just not sure I’m reading the same story you’re writing.

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  16. Samir H
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 16:53:33

    I’m not surprised by this stunning three-in-one display of xenophobia, sociocultural ignorance and dehumanization. I’m not surprised by a total lack of due-diligence with regards to researching the state of the country and her people, just basic background information. You guys watch Fox News and CNN. Can’t expect flowers where the earth’s watered with poison.

    What I am surprised by is how anyone at Dear Author thought this would be suitable for posting. Why would you showcase this?

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  17. julia knight
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 18:00:36

    There is so much so very wrong with this I cannot even *begin* to articulate.

    Seriously.
    ETA: Sorry, but to add – this fucks me off. I was going to add this whole thing but I deleted it cos…because I don’t need this fucking shit tbh.

    Maybe the author should try a bit (read fuck loads) more research and not do the old ‘ooh Christianity = great person’, everyone else = animal.

    Which I *particularly* don’t get if they are part god themselves…

    There is some serious wank going on here.

    I hope this isn’t a romance hero or anything. Because I would want to kick him right in the koalas from the off. And then I would educate him. I wouldn’t want to pork him.

    Ofc we could get into the ‘ethnically British’ which , well, doesn’t actually exist and hasn’t for several centuries. and… (white is technically the thing, but well isn’t these days btw. Did you know that more Muslims of Pakistani extraction feel themselves British than many white people? Perhaps not. Perhaps a British passport means your protag can’t be whitey rightey – unlikely. And ofc none of this means that white privilege is some thing you should completely ignore, and,, and to see it done well, read Rivers of London). And hasn’t for several centuries. and…and..oh shit you ain’t going to get it.

    It’s complicated. Okay? So you could do with researching and stuff.

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  18. Jane Litte
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 18:03:40

    @Samir H: Because sometimes the only time someone can awaken to problems in their manuscripts is hearing it from strangers.

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  19. Jane O
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 20:35:01

    Whoa, let’s wait a minute here. This is a very powerfully written opening. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t have produced the kind of reactions we are seeing here. And some of those reactions seem far more “over the top” than the First Page.

    To highlight with horror an atrocity committed by members of a culture is not to condemn that entire culture. Nor should atrocities be excused on the grounds that all cultures deserve respect. They don’t, at least not in all their aspects. I cannot see any reason to consider honor killings, for example, as anything other than abhorrent, and calling the perpetrators of such atrocities “animals” does not seem excessive. That is not to say that all of Islamic culture is barbaric. In the same way, the Nazi death camps were barbaric. That is not the same as saying all of Western culture is barbaric.

    To return to the First Page, I’m afraid, Author, that I would not read on, for the same reason that I don’t read books about serial killers. I don’t need nightmares. But that’s a purely personal reaction.

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  20. wikkidsexycool
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 21:10:56

    “is is a very powerfully written opening. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t have produced the kind of reactions we are seeing here. ”

    Respectfully, Jane O I must disagree. I commented not because its powerful, but because as a reader my reaction was part interest with a whole lot of please, don’t let this be the hero and the “other.”

    Most stated the author is a good writer. But when writing about another culture, care must to taken to avoid stereotypes. That’s not to say a villain or villians from another culture can’t exist. But terms like “animals” were routinely used to describe those of color and from other cultures in older books, so yes, there is sensitivity in that regard, at least in my case and comment. It’s best the author know this so that if a decision is made to continue, then at least he or she knows what may turn off some readers, and that they (the writer of this piece) may need to take their writing to the next level to accomplish a better balance.

    No, this piece isn’t in the “Saving the Pearls” territory imho, but I don’t think the author wanted the reaction they’re getting. And I agree, to highlight the horror is not to condemn the entire culture. But the writing would then have to be spot on to convey that, because even authors with the best of intentions can royally mess up from lack of research and if their writing fails to convey their meaning properly. I commend the author for putting it out for critique. The talent is there. And really, this is something many writers who try to be inclusive may struggle with. But there are authors who’ve done it successfully. Sometimes reading the works from the culture one wants to portray helps. And one more thing. The paranormal element is almost lost in this, because of the focus on the horrific assault on the young girl. I’d be interested to see the changes made and wish the author the best with this.

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  21. Jacques
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 23:05:40

    I wouldn’t read on, especially after the author’s clarification that the hero is part elf. The opening scene is harsh. It’ll be hard to make it uplifting under any circumstances, but once the elves show up, I’m afraid it’ll be impossible to make the reality of the girl’s suffering anything but trivial.

    But I don’t agree about some of the criticisms here. Kai doesn’t call Afghans animals. He calls child rapists and mutilators animals. I believe those sorts of animals exist in every culture. Now if you want to object to this metaphor on behalf of animals, that’s a different sort of question. I’m also assuming that the story will show other features of Afghan society. If it doesn’t, then showing only the worst side of any culture is indeed prejudicial.

    I didn’t care for the Christian stuff, if only because it tends to make all the oppositions too extreme. Again, I don’t see how it will be possible to find any human truths about the girl’s suffering from an elf-Christian. On the other hand, I didn’t see any slight to Islam in this. When he says “If God wills it…” he is not making a specifically Christian remark. That formula is the English version of a standard Islamic expression. If the woman speaks English (which the passage implies) and is a Muslim, undoubtedly she would hear it in this way.

    But I totally agree that the reference to Persian is a fail. If Kai hasn’t made the miniscule effort to figure out what precise dialect the people around him speak, then he is indeed a jerk.

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  22. SAO
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 01:31:35

    Author
    My problem is not with Kai’s reaction to the events as portrayed, but the event itself, which I took to be YOUR take on Afghan culture. A take that, frankly doesn’t ring true. The Afghanis might be inclined to use Koranic punishment on a child’s offense of what they see as a violation of women’s chastity. I’m not an expert in the Koran, but given what’s in the bible, I assume you can come up with something horrific, but I’m sure gang rape as punishment is not in the Koran. All societies have psychopaths, but you are presenting this as a normal part of Afghani culture.

    Further, the “crime” as given seems excessive for the punishment, since wells tend to be full of activity and the girl’s interaction was observed, hence it was known that all she did was talk.

    So, you, Author, are the one calling the Afghanis animals. Or, more precisely, showing us that the Afghanis are animals. Kai’s ethnicity, elfin-ness or whatever is irrelevant.

    You’ve obviously offended lots of DA readers, most of whom, I’d assume, have no particularly great respect or liking for what they know about Afghanistan and its culture. You’ve certainly offended me and I don’t have a very high opinion of Afghani culture.

    If you want to continue with this, I’d strongly recommend that inciting incident be very closely based on a real case you find.

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  23. Sam
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 01:55:22

    Muslim person here.

    I really wait for the day when my people (all 1.6 billion plus of us) will not be portrayed as ‘animals’ but as humans.

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  24. Cervenka
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 04:24:07

    @SAO: Not to contradict, but I have a great deal of respect for Afghanistan and its culture. I do not have great respect for fundamentalist zealots regardless of their faith, and for me part of the problem is the failure to distinguish between the Afghan culture and the fringe element committing the atrocities.

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  25. Courtney Milan
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 09:43:33

    This is too graphic for my taste, and I had some of the reactions hashed out above.

    But I have something else to add. Kai-as-doctor doesn’t sound believable to me

    Some salt to take this with: I’m not a doctor. I have no experience with British/Japanese doctors, and so don’t know if what I’m about to say is universal. But in my experience with US doctors, which is “way more stories at dinner than any reasonable person would want,” I end up hearing doctor often enough to recognize the sound of the language.

    This doesn’t sound like it. There’s a certain doctor patois they fall into, especially people who deal with emergencies. Like, they say someone is “bagged” instead of on a respirator, and they would never say a place wasn’t equipped to do major surgery (I think that removing someone’s battered uterus probably counts as major surgery) when they meant they didn’t have a plastic consult.

    It also bothers me that the nurse is standing around wiping Kai’s forehead, and that he isn’t talking to her. This feels like some warped 1950s version of a TV nurse–someone who is there to act as the doctor’s personal sweat band, rather than someone who is responsible for a huge part of the load of patient care. In reality, the nurse would have a ton of duties–maintaining the sterile field, pushing drugs through a central line, delivering saline solution, dressing wounds, and a billion other things, because nurses in emergency situations work their asses off saving people’s lives every bit as much as doctors do. Maybe she would wipe his sweat–I don’t know–but in an acute surgical situation, there should be more interaction between them than his ignoring her and chanting “Fuck” while she wipes his manly brow.

    Finally, this isn’t how I hear doctors talk about patient trauma. Hearts don’t stutter; they are disrhythmic. A man’s jaw wasn’t shattered by a baseball bat; the patient suffered repeated blunt trauma resulting in multiple fractures. They’d never say the patient staggered drunkenly across the room, but they might say he was ataxic.

    See what all that has in common? The words doing the heavy lifting are adjectives and noun, and almost never verbs.

    When I asked Mr. Milan why he talked like that, he said that it’s drilled into them in medical school again and again and again. Modern medicine is about treating states, and so the writer’s natural instinct–to use strong verbs to propel things along–is the exact opposite of how a doctor thinks about trauma. Particularly when a patient is in extremis, they have been taught to describe what the trauma is, and to treat the trauma.

    Not once in the above does Kai look at the patient and catalog her current state. He thinks about how she got there and where she’s going, but there’s no description of her wounds. Because (and this is “Please, not over dinner!” description) he would be thinking, “Severe vaginal laceration” and “bruising of the cervix” and I assume that he has some kind of way to monitor her internal status or he wouldn’t be so clear about what’s happening to her internal organs so what is it? Old school X-ray? Ultrasound probe? There should be references to whatever imaging he has at his disposal.

    Instead, there isn’t even the periodic glance at vitals, and for someone who’s been bagged, he should be checking her vitals constantly.

    So this scene doesn’t sound at all to me like a doctor thinking about trauma that needs to be treated. It sounds to me like a reporter describing what happened to her.

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  26. wikkidsexycool
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 10:29:31

    To the author:

    I think this is the most I’ve ever commented on this site, but I need to let you know, this whole thing is so much bigger than your first page. and I’m glad Dear Author put your page up.

    But I also figure that right about now you might be thinking “Woa. . . this is not what I intended.”

    Your piece took me back to the many times I’d read where my culture, specifically the males were portrayed not only in books but in film as “animalistic.” Many of these novels and films are deemed “classics” so there’s no escaping them. But they also still influence how some, and I stress the word “some” view African American males in today’s society. Literary examples include Thomas Dixon’s 1905 novel The Clansman and film examples include Tarzan. More recently, imo the novel The Help included offensive dialogue and scenes with the black characters, specifically the African American male portrayal that many readers who loved the novel didn’t notice. I did, because I remember segregation and the negative misrepresentations being passed off as complimentary.

    Now, there are those who can read a piece and push that all aside, or perhaps aren’t familiar with what I speak of. But when I read your piece and the assault, I was reminded of how my own culture would be portrayed far too often with black males hated because many in past society deemed them capable of committing assaults and rapes against females of all ages.

    So I wanted you to know why your piece affected me the way it did. Others will not read it that way, as you can see by the comments. Words do matter, more to some than others.

    There are writers who do include diverse characters in their fantasy, paranormal and literary novels. Brandon Sanderson’s book The Way of Kings, Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson urban fantasy novels, Octavia Butler, Dennis Lehane, and I’m sure there are Dear Author readers and writers who can suggest others.

    But I will say in closing that I decided to write because of the misinformation I felt was and still is out there, and that putting together diverse characters are what I consider the mission statement in all my subsequent creations. But it won’t be easy, as we all must deal with filtering out what we’ve been taught and experienced and retained about another culture, even our own.

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  27. The Author
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 15:45:58

    I have several comments in response to this amazing amount of critique.

    First, to anyone that I did offend or squick, my sincere apologies. I did not knowingly set out to do that, and I am very sorry that my words caused anyone pain. I can only say that I will endeavour to do better in the future vis a vis cultural sensitivity.

    Second, thank you again to all of the critiquers who gave me such excellent insights into the piece — I know now that I am not up to the weight class of the apparent subject matter and that my opening page should reflect more clearly what the conflict will be about. Thank you all for the time and trouble you spent writing your comments and for sharing your views with me, both good and bad. I have learned a good deal about the power of words and the power of unspoken assumptions that I did not have direct experience of before. I hope that I can take this information and use it to become a better writer.

    Third, while I have done research (bought books on Afghanistan, read the cultural websites that I could find, etc. etc. etc.), there is not a lot out there that gives a real on the ground level of detail. This does not excuse my faults in writing or in imagination, but I did make a good-faith effort to educate myself and I was not basing this on unthinking prejudice.

    Again, thank you for the time you spent reading this and giving such thoughtful critiques.

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  28. hapax
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 15:46:08

    I don’t want to dogpile on an author brave enough to put her stuff out there for criticism from strangers.

    But I do want to add another general note, since this opening pushed one of MY strong buttons.

    Unless we follow this young girl’s recovery and healing in depth for the rest of the story (and I kind of doubt it, since the revelation of a super-surgeon Japanese / elf /god hardly leaves room for that kind of gritty realism), basically what we have here is a young woman horribly raped and brutalized and then THROWN AWAY for no good reason but to provide characterization of the protagonist.

    I know the difference between fictional characters and real people, but there’s no getting around that this was a deliberate choice on the author’s part. There are all sorts of other ways that we could have been shown that he dislikes the Afghan culture, that he’s a caring surgeon, that he is (perhaps excessively) Christian, whatever this scene is intended to do, without gang-raping and mutilating a throwaway characters.

    This is taking “Women in Refrigerator Syndrome” up to the eleventh degree, and I could never read on after such an opening.

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  29. Ali
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 19:31:42

    It really seems to me like the author doesn’t understand the culture as well as she thinks she does from the way she handwaved the reasoning of the rape of the girl as ‘Oh, she talked to a strange man at the well and everyone decided she must be a slut.’ The ‘reasons’ for that kind of treatment of a girl by ‘village elders’ would NEVER be so simplistic and illogical. The ugly truth is that most girls in Afghanistan get raped by random sickos or warlords or creepy people like that, NOT by decent religious people who are trying to do good.
    Imagining that when the author said ‘village elders’ she really DID mean ‘creepy warlords’ still the ‘talked to strange man = slut’ logic makes no sense. It would more likely be that her father was a gambler who didn’t pay his debts or her mother was an annoying big-mouth who kept spreading rumors or her brother stole something from someone important and the little girl ended up getting used as a weapon to punish the family.
    Obviously, there is no reason in the world that would justify doing something like that to anyone, I just wanted to clarify that the reason you came up with was just ridiculous and the punishment meted out for it made absolutely no sense and seemed to be designed to make Afghan villagers look as backwards and idiotic as possible.

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  30. BRNZ
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 01:27:21

    Lots of people have made really good comments so I wont address any of that, but there is one major niggle I have.

    If the protagonist is some kind of elf/god, why the hell is he referencing a human god? Generally christianity is seen as the competition to all those pagan/other gods, and if I was a god I certainly wouldn’t refer to another one, not with a capital H like in the text, as if I care. Im not so sure about muslim take on supernaturels but assume god competition is a bad thing or we wouldnt be having a lot of the world troubles we currently do!

    Regarding the Persian in Afganistan I was curious and did a quick google search – http://www.afghan-web.com/language/ so I reiterate what another poster commented, the depth to which you dipped your big toe into the research pool appears to be very very shallow…..

    ReplyReply

  31. a
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 02:59:07

    It really seems to me like the author doesn’t understand the culture as well as she thinks she does from the way she handwaved the reasoning of the rape of the girl as ‘Oh, she talked to a strange man at the well and everyone decided she must be a slut.’ The ‘reasons’ for that kind of treatment of a girl by ‘village elders’ would NEVER be so simplistic and illogical. The ugly truth is that most girls in Afghanistan get raped by random sickos or warlords or creepy people like that, NOT by decent religious people who are trying to do good.
    Imagining that when the author said ‘village elders’ she really DID mean ‘creepy warlords’ still the ‘talked to strange man = slut’ logic makes no sense. It would more likely be that her father was a gambler who didn’t pay his debts or her mother was an annoying big-mouth who kept spreading rumors or her brother stole something from someone important and the little girl ended up getting used as a weapon to punish the family.
    Obviously, there is no reason in the world that would justify doing something like that to anyone, I just wanted to clarify that the reason you came up with was just ridiculous and the punishment meted out for it made absolutely no sense and seemed to be designed to make Afghan villagers look as backwards and idiotic as possible.

    ReplyReply

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