I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
A hard partying teacher finds himself searching for a way to save himself from himself, by putting himself on the line to help save a young female teacher stuck in a country who values women simply as servants in author Hans Fellmann’s “Saving Jahan”.
Saving Jahan is a 143,000-word autobiographical novel based on my Peace Corps service in the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan. The novel starts at the end of 2006, which was a time of great importance, as the country’s totalitarian dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, passed away due to mysterious circumstances, leaving a power vacuum. It is in this environment that my character, Johann Felmanstien, is sent to teach English for two years in a dusty town in the middle of the Turkmen desert. At the school he is assigned to, Johann meets a female teacher called Jahan, who, despite having an oddly similar name, could not be more different. Unlike Johann, who is a loud, hard-drinking partier, Jahan is a quiet, unassuming homebody, who has dedicated her life to providing for her three siblings and sick mother. Over time, she opens up about her dreams to live abroad and the struggle she faces in a country that sees women as little more than servants. Johann takes a passive stance at first. But as his work suffers because of his shenanigans and alcohol abuse, he realizes that helping Jahan escape Turkmenistan might be the only way to save himself.
From the first pages of this novel, the author captures the readers attention and foreshadows the growing complexity of the plot in lines like, “Don’t go out there trying to save the world,” she said. “Just find one real reason to stay. The rest will fall into place.” The author showcases an understanding of the complex nature of other nations around the world and the in over your head feeling most people have when searching for “that next great adventure”.
The author also does an amazing job of not only highlighting the cultural differences between the nations of this book but the similarities between the United States and Muslim-based countries, using the cast of characters to highlight how much we are all the same at our core. The character arc for Johann was a great experience to see play out, as the protagonist clashed with Peace Corps officials, fought to help a young woman realize her dreams and made new friends and even a host family that gave him a well rounded journey.
A well written, engaging and lengthy read, this fictionalized autobiography/travel memoir was a great story filled with memorable characters that felt real and relatable all at once. A story of growth, finding oneself and helping others along their own journeys of self-discovery, this is a great novel for anyone who enjoys protagonists emerging into new cultures and experiencing a new adventure. Be sure to grab your copy soon!