Michener’s “Caravan”

It was a pleasure to use Michener’s “Caravan” as my illustration last night in my sermon. I have been lightening up my reading a bit. I have always enjoyed the Michener books I have read: Covenant, Drifters, Hawaii and now Caravans; the breadth of his writing experience is a dream lived for most of us.

I was preaching on “contentment” and had just finished the book with our main character, an American officer who is Jewish and stationed at the embassy at Kabul given the task of finding an American woman who had married an Afghgan man and now had seemingly disappeared. The time is 1947.

It was this lack of contentment that had driven the woman to despise her upbringing and the middle class values of her family and seek the adventure that would come with being the second wife to the Afghgan man she met in America while he attended college. Although treated exceptionally well by the family she soon found her discontent giving voice to her joining herself to a band of nomads, eventually becoming the lover of the leader.

Our officer in the meantime has been stranded in the desert with a German doctor who had killed Jews doing medical experiments in Germany during Hitler’s time. Our officer, finding this out, was in the process of killing him when the nomad caravan entered the oasis. Now the officer and the doctor are joined to the caravan as it winds its way northward towards the Russian border for a rendevous with all of the other nomad groups. He obviously finds the American woman he is looking for.

She being a picture of a femme fatale with a hippie chick philosophy mocks our young officer even as he is attracted to her vitality. (Hanna Rosin borrows the phrase “erotic capital” to describe this vitality as a corporate plus in “The End of Men”) She glories in the simple life of the nomads but is now attracted to the German doctor because he has no life left and only she can give him life again. So the caravan goes on and in Kabul he is asked to continue on with the caravan to see if the Russians have infiltrated the meeting place. So we have a woman running away from her husband, sleeping with the leader of the caravan and with the doctor while the young officer is sleeping with the leader’s daughter. Surely there will be hell to pay in this primitive Muslim world they were traveling in.

They reach the rendevous where they all now see how they had been used by the leader. This is the part I tied into the sermon about navigating through life with a godly wisdom verses an earthly or demonic wisdom. It was he who had allowed and made sure that they all accompanied him to the meeting because he knew that there would be an election for a new leader, and because he used the doctor and the young officer’s money to give out free medical care, and he had the stately blond as a mistress and he was accompanied by an (at that time) exotic American he won the election. He showe himself to be just like her father in PA, doing what he could to further his life along in the situation he found himself.

Afterwards in order to put on a show for his people, he mock fights the doctor, slamming the dagger into the ground and banishing the three of them from the nomadic group as they head south again. Our woman has become discontent with the doctor and now has her eyes on the young officer. That is when the Afhgan diplomat shows up with the forlorn husband. The husband can not win her back and so he picks out three white stones and tosses them at her saying “I divorce you” with each toss. She can now be kicked out of Afghanistan. They run accross the gunrunning nomadic group crossing back into Russia. The diplomat orders them to take the woman with them, giving them money to send her to Moscow where she can make her way back to the US. He lets both the husband and the young officer know he is doing them both a favor.

Kind of fun to tie these thoughts into the sermon.

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About hansston

Pastor a church in Sparta.
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