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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Reading the Middle East - my book list

As part of my family's attempt to keep our world outlook broad and carbon footprint narrow books can't be beaten. The challenge was to read a book (translated!) from every country in the world, see this post. Obviously I can cheat a bit as I read around 60 books a year and as I haven't just stuck to books from the UK over the years I can revisit old "friends". Let me know if you have any ideas for books you reckon are a must read (PS I prefer novels!).. The collection below are books with a particular Middle East perspective that I've read recently and enjoyed. My local library has been a godsend, your nearest may well be too.

  • Egypt - Diary of a Country Prosecutor
  • Iran - Persepolis
  • Iraq - Reading Jane Austen in Baghdad
  • Lebanon - In the heart of the heart of another country


Clockwise books that focus on Iran, Lebanon & Egypt.
EGYPT - Diary of a Country Prosecutor by Tawfik al-Hakim (1898-1987, a man with an astonishingly long life!). This classic short book was published in Egypt in 1937. It's a darkly comic tale of how an imposed legal system wrecks the lives of legal bureaucrats and the people. I laughed so much and was also reminded of my favourite non-UK title, Tales of the Tikongs by Epeli Hau'ofa from Tuvalu. Both books show how introducing foreign bureaucratic systems (in the Egyptian case, the Code Napoleon) was unworkable unless the administrators tweaked it to suit their particular circumstances. Bribery and sloth figure highly - but most of all in Egypt there's a Kafakesque sense that the system will be the undoing of you too.

Although Tawfik is a man there are some shocking insights as to how women are treated done through the administrator's diary entries of gossip; his own approach to the beautiful girl Rim and a horrifying tale of how a local midwife typically treats a mother to be (both baby and woman die - the mother's vagina stuffed with straw, it's grim).

The story races along - starting with a murder and our administrator hero setting out for the scene of the crime half asleep and deeply resentful. He knows how the case is going to go... and in some ways it does, but there are twists and turns along the way which would outwit anyone. I loved the description of getting to places - especially in a car and on a horse (the rider longs for a safer donkey). The restorative power of a cup of tea or coffee reminded me of the more modern Botswana fashion for Rooibos tea in Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series starring Precious Ramotswe written by African-born Scot Alexander Mcall-Smith
Should you read it? 10/10 (!) Comic classic.

IRAQ - Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad by May Witwit and Bee Rowlatt - a compilation of emails from a north London mum and radio researcher (Bee) and an Iraqi university professor (May) which switches from ordinary to extraordinary (teething babies in London via the complexities of shopping in Baghdad). I've now met both Bee and May - they are amazing women.
Should you read it?  Brilliant book club choice as it compares two women's lives without judgement.

IRAN - Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000) is a wonderful,well-known black and white graphic novel (originally published in French) by an Iranian woman who documents with great skill the miserable mistakes women especially (but men as well) are forced to live through by being born an Iranian in the 20th and 21st centuries. Outsiders love it: the New York Times voted it in the top 10 books published during 2000-2010 - more than 1,500,000 have been sold, and there's a film of the same name). Yet this book is a peon to the love Iranians have for Iran at the same time as it shows the hideous decisions families have to make to stay alive. I also read the Complete Persepolis - which follows the heroine Marji (it's an autobiography!) through the 1980s in an increasingly troubled Iran and then on to a new life in Vienna, Austria, and finally to France where she lives now.
Should you read it? Yes - ideal for 14 year olds and up, especially girls.It's shocking in all sorts of ways, and there lies its power.

LEBANON- In the heart of the heart of another country (2005) by Etel Adnan (woman) takes an overview of Arab-American perspectives on war in the Middle East, most especially the bombing of Baghdad which starts the most recent Iraq war. She is well known for her Lebanese civil war novel Sitt Marie Rose, but this was the first time I'd read her work. It's not fiction, more a Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) style collection of poetic journalese written with emotion and insight rather than just facts... I have to admit that I didn't much like this book. But Etel is a stylish writer and her life view is massively different to someone like me who has been brought up in the UK. She talks of chestnut paste, lemon trees and old women washing clothes where I'd write pasta, oak and washing machine. So when I wasn't finding it indulgent I was admiring the imagery.

That said her final section is an astonishing piece of writing - the breakdown of sentences as Etel tries to cope with the lovely pleasures of a sunshine holiday and then back home to safe day-to-day normality in the US (her adoptive home although she has an uncontainable world view) as the Western allies start to bomb Iraq. The truncated style echoes her state of mind, and by this stage in the book you do feel you live in her mind.
Should you read it? If you like poetry yes.

Over to you
Any suggestions about armchair travel via books (or films) are welcome. 

1 comment:

Sri Lanka Holidays said...

You seems like a good reader. Love the list already. cheers!