30 August 2014

Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad (a book review)

Book Cover:  Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad: The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship
I don't usually write book reviews. Left to my own devices I'll happily devour a book a day. I try hard to be disciplined about doing other stuff, so might take two days for most books. I picked up this book from the library yesterday and finished it today. That counts as two days in my book (haha).

This book is the exchange of emails between Bee and May. Bee is a British journalist, married with three young daughters, juggling all the activity of a busy Western city life. May is a Iraqi English professor living in Baghdad. Bee contacts May to conduct an interview in early 2005 for the BBC World Service.

They didn't write the emails with the plan of turning them into a book - they just wrote emails to each other, developing a friendship along the way. Both women are obviously articulate and trained in language and writing, but it's probably not the greatest writing to ever be printed.

What it is is a harrowing description of living in a war zone, of living in fear of your mortal life day in, day out; juxtaposed against the normalcy and downright luxury and opulence of Western living. May talks about her depression and fear, the mental strain of living with death threats and daily dangers. Bee counters with descriptions of her daughters' birthday parties and their holidays.

Although it's unlikely to win any awards for writing, I read until after midnight last night, and aside from a brief break to make lunch, read all day today, because I was so caught up in their lives, so wanting things to change, so anxious to know that things worked out for May.

If you want to understand why people, even wealthy and educated people, are seeking asylum from Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot-spots around the world, you need to read this book. If you're one of those who say, "They should wait in line; they should follow the correct processes; they should do x, y, z; before seeking asylum" you need to read this book. Read this book and begin to understand the daily lives of ordinary, every day people caught up in horrid out-workings of political messes not of their making.

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