These essays can stand alone, but they cohere as a slim memoir of a young American family’s years of danger in the Middle East.
There have been plenty of better memoirs from war correspondents, but what distinguishes this is its perspective from the sidelines—specifically, the gender reversal, underscored often, as Los Angeles Review of Books contributor Deuel is the husband of Kelly McEvers, NPR’s Baghdad bureau chief through much of the narrative. This job often caused her to be separated from the author and their young daughter. Both journalists like living on the edge, flirting (or more) with danger, asking the existential question, “What’s the point of being safe if you don’t feel fully alive?” One point might be the addition of their daughter, who added a complication, as “the swashbuckling couple who had never shied away from doing anything insane…were about to bring a new baby into this world.” And the world into which she was born was one of car bombs, shooting in the streets, internal and external warfare, and temperatures that could exceed 120 degrees. Amid the death and carnage, the daughter whom Deuel loves was somehow a threat to his masculinity: “Among other problems, it was difficult to be a man, changing diapers, while Kelly swashbuckled her way across Mesopotamia….For Kelly, the Middle East was the big leagues. For me, it was a place to find a good doctor and maybe some daycare. Alone on a Friday night, I’d pour myself another glass and wonder: What could I do? One thing I couldn’t ever do in good taste was complain too much. After all, actual Iraqis had it much worse than I did.” The question, then, is how much complaining is too much?
The author’s honesty and his self-absorption are two sides of the coin.