British journalist Pope (Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World, 2005, etc.) shares deeply engaged dispatches from the Middle East hotspots he visited during his long career.
The author organizes the narrative topically around the big stories he covered as a journalist in the Middle East. The son of a scholar of ancient texts and a “handsome Englishwoman of the indefatigable school,” Pope was studying Oriental languages at Oxford and became enthused with the romantic idea of becoming a Middle Eastern journalist in the style of Times correspondent Robert Fisk, “so close to the action, so clear in [his] moral vision”—however not overly concerned with factual precision. The author first got a job at the Egyptian Gazette in Cairo, embellishing news out of a sense of perverse boredom. He became a stringer in Turkey for the Independent in 1991 when the Gulf War broke out, before being expelled for something written by Fisk. Pope subsequently worked for the UPI in Syria covering the Palestinian crisis of the early ’80s; Reuters in Lebanon and Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet withdrawal of 1989; and the Wall Street Journal, serving as the Middle Eastern reporter in the ’90s based in Istanbul, until 9/11 abruptly challenged his sense of invulnerability. The author is a charming writer, intensely sympathetic of the Arabic people he moves among and eager to make known their voices, especially in terms of their resentment of imperial powers and Israeli aggression. In between his newsmaking interviews with Yasser Arafat, young King Abdullah of Jordan, an al-Qaeda operator in Saudi Arabia and a Taliban ambassador in Kabul, Pope offers intimate glimpses inside the Arab world, including his study of the beloved medieval Persian poet Hafez as a means to help decipher Iranian political rhetoric.
An enjoyable chronicle of a rich life’s work.