Thursday, September 9, 2010

Barefoot in Baghdad Review

Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity-My Own and What It Means to Be a Woman in Chaos

Product Description

"Walk barefoot and the thorns will hurt you…"
—Iraqi-Turkmen proverb
A riveting story of hope and despair, of elation and longing, Barefoot in Baghdad takes you to the front lines of a different kind of battle, where the unsung freedom fighters are strong, vibrant—and female.

An American aid worker of Arab descent, Manal Omar moves to Iraq to help as many women as she can rebuild their lives. She quickly finds herself drawn into the saga of a people determined to rise from the ashes of war and sanctions and rebuild their lives in the face of crushing chaos. This is a chronicle of Omar's friendships with several Iraqis whose lives are crumbling before her eyes. It is a tale of love, as her relationship with one Iraqi man intensifies in a country in turmoil. And it is the heartrending stories of the women of Iraq, as they grapple with what it means to be female in a homeland you no longer recognize.

My take: Manal is an American Muslim who follows Muslim traditions and chooses to wear a veil.  She seeks out opportunity to return to Iraq, a country she fell in love with years ago and becomes the director of a small organization to assist women in Iraq; the women who are primary breadwinners but unskilled, widows, divorced women, and others. 

The story begins with Manal attempting to assist Kalthoum, a 16 year old girl who was married off at the age of 13, raped and abused, and escapes to the streets to become a prostitute.  Manal's mission is to find a safe place for this girl before her family claims her and honorably executes her for dirtying their name.

This is a strong beginning and grabs my attention.  Unfortunately, there are few things within the pages that hold my attention.  Most of the book is Omar telling the reader about the politics of Iraq, including the different organizations and brutally painting the United States soldiers as insensitive and uncouth, describing their poor decisions regarding the war in Iraq, its occupation, and organizations that were wrong.  At the same time, Omar contrasts her own work and decisions to live among the Iraqi downtrodden, her embracing of the Iraqi way, her sensitivity and Muslim lifestyle, and occasionally includes a brief story of her work as a humanitarian aid worker.

What disappointed me about this book is that I found Omar's agenda to be splashed on nearly every page that the military was wrong and she wanted nothing to do with them.  She was an aid worker and balked at any association.  She briefly concedes that life under Saddam Hussein was unbearable and the Iraqi people, particularly the downtrodden, saw the toppling of the old government as a new beginning yet she is relentless in pointing out the wrongness of the war in Iraq.  Never does she acknowledge that the work she is able to do is directly related to Saddam's overthrown government.  Not only that, but time after time, it is (begrudgingly on her part) through the military that she is often able to break through barriers and dead ends.

I really enjoyed Omar's personal stories that lacked political overtones.  I did enjoy understanding more about the culture and the difficulty she had reconciling women given the Iraqi way.  I enjoyed the developing relationship between her and one of the Iraqi men.  I was bored reading about the organizations she felt were doing nothing or harm to the culture.  Although not a fan of the Iraqi occupation, I came away feeling defensive of the U.S. government's military personnel and deeply offended by Omar's dismissal of the sacrifices made by the United States to overturn tyranny.

I'm giving the book 3 stars

1 comment:

Kate said...

Hmmm. Sounds like the author is using her fiction to drive home her political views. Not sure I could get into this book much. Thanks for reviewing it honestly!