A few days ago I hosted a Zoom Book Launch party for my latest memoir, Geckos & Guns: The Pakistan Years. It was a successful, enjoyable afternoon of sharing memories and answering questions about the book.
One of those questions still resonates, not because it was an unusual question, but rather because I didn’t provide a complete answer. The question was, “Will people who have never been expats feel critical of your frustrations with hiring and managing a staff of seven people during your time in Islamabad? Isn’t this something all of us dream about—having employees who look after every aspect of the household and beyond?”
I attempted to respond by explaining that we had an exceptionally large home there that required constant cleaning to keep ahead of pesky bugs and bacteria. As well, food management was a time-consuming priority. All produce had to be washed, soaked in a bleach solution, washed again with filtered water, dried, and then packaged for the refrigerator. Large pots of water had to be boiled daily to prevent water-borne illnesses. I went on in this vein for a few minutes outlining all the reasons we needed a sizable domestic staff in Pakistan. Of course, several chapters in the book also clearly illustrate the necessity for household workers.
After the Zoom gathering had finished, I realized that there was a deeper answer to that question about reader criticism, a response that would have gotten to the core of the issue. That answer would have been, “C’est la vie.” If the words on the page paint a detailed picture of life in Islamabad in the 90s and clearly illustrate the need for domestic staff then that is all that is required. Once the book is published all emotional, visceral reaction and opinion belongs to the reader.
If a book isn’t well-written then people will toss it aside as boring or irrelevant. However, if a book elicits strong feelings—be they negative or positive—then the author has done her job. Every reader will bring his or her unique set of experiences, biases, and values to a book. Anyone who has ever belonged to a book club knows this. Ten people can read the same book and each of them will have a slightly different perspective.
So dear readers, you are welcome to love or despise the characters and situations in my book. Just enjoy the ride! No matter what you feel, the best thing you can tell me is “I couldn’t put the book down!”