Batten down the hatches: here comes a rising flood of memoirs, celebrity and otherwise, about the recent unpleasantness in Iraq.
Thankfully, longtime NPR reporter Garrels’s account is much like her on-air persona: professional but personable, full of human touches and offhand wisdom. Arriving in Baghdad in the fall of 2002, she gives full notice of the humanity of those who would soon be falling under American bombs, though with no sympathy whatever for the monstrous Hussein regime—about which she offers some intriguing side notes. “Baghdad,” she writes, “is not a charming place. The cement buildings are spare, solid, and utilitarian . . . and there is virtually nothing left to hint at the city’s exotic past.” (And that was before the bombing.) Yet she finds the Baghdadi people to be, in the main, friendly and solicitous—especially the women, who, she notes, enjoyed far more freedom under Saddam’s rule than do their counterparts in most other Arab countries. “Being an older woman has its advantages,” she writes. “I would never have been able to interview a mullah along the Pakistan-Afghan border were he not assured in advance that I was an ‘old woman.’ ” Though of solid years, Garrels performs just fine during the days of shock and awe, a time of considerable worry to her husband, whose lengthy e-mails from home punctuate Garrels’s account. (Sometimes they are charming, but mostly they are annoying interruptions for readers eager to get on with the story.) Along the way, Garrels writes of the difficulty of reporting on what no one knows (the whereabouts of Saddam, the effectiveness of the bombing); gets off some nice zingers about rock-star reporter Geraldo Rivera, whose alleged horse’s-ass qualities she richly affirms; gives a voice to Iraqi views that Saddam brought his woes on his own head; and roundly criticizes the Bush administration for its failure to win the peace—and apparent lack of interest in doing so.
Highly readable, and most illuminating. Here’s looking forward to Geraldo’s retort.