An intrepid writer journeys to the Middle East at the dawn of the 21st century to document the lives of young people whose countries are immersed in social and political upheaval.
In this engrossing book, Cohen artfully combines his natural confidence and flare as a writer to produce a revealing look at the youth of Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Iraq. He gives a loose overview of the history of each region and then eloquently details his encounters with the young people he meets. The trip begins in Iran with Cohen clutching a piece of paper listing all the important political figures he wants to interview. But a chance meeting with two sisters at the University of Tehran, and an introduction to the city’s nightlife, propel the author away from these lofty goals and toward a documentation of youth culture. Once he hits his stride, the highlights come thick and fast, with tales of illegal alcohol consumption in Iran, encounters with Hezbollah members in fast-food restaurants, a pulse-racing scenario in a Palestinian refugee camp and a daring entrance, and terrifying exit, from Iraq. But the real revelations come from the author’s conversations with the people he meets along the way. Many express pro-American sentiment, and despite some healthy debate, particularly in Cohen’s meetings with university students in Iran and Iraq, he is never subjected to overt hostility, even from Hezbollah. The author also makes some telling observations on how the Internet and cable television have provided a vital, and heretofore unthinkable, link between the Middle East and the rest of the world. To his credit, Cohen rarely hides the fact that he is Jewish and American, and his openness appears to have been highly respected among the people he encountered—it’s also one of the primary reasons why this book makes for such compelling reading.
Riveting from start to finish.