Monday 6 June 2016

Bagdad Without a Map

Finished June 6
Baghdad Without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz

This memoir covers a his adventures in the late '80s in which Tony and his wife, writer and journalist Geraldine Brooks, were based in Egypt. She had just been offered the Middle East posting by her newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, and he decided that working freelance from Cairo was the best opportunity at that time. As he follows stories to a number of countries in the Arab world, he shows us the culture, the bureaucracy, the economic conditions of these countries. The people are both yearning for a different life idolizing western civilization, and dismissive of it. Getting things done takes time, money and endless patience. There are rule followers and rule ignorers, and he finds his way to get where he needs to go, see what and who he needs to see, and report on it. The writing is open and honest, showing disbelief and humour at the situations in which he finds himself. Several years ago, I read Geraldine's memoir, Nine Parts of Desire, covering the same time period, a book that developed from her gender as a woman, being able to access a world that male journalists couldn't get at, Tony's experience is that of a man, going to war zones, drinking late at night in dingy places, taking cabs alone to places he isn't sure of. What the two books have in common, besides good writing, is the connection to people. Where he goes, Tony connects with people, often the locals, but not always. He looks for background, for what normal life looks like for these people. From Libya to Yemen to Iran and many places in between he finds people and talks with them, and tells us about it. A great read.

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