From Publishers Weekly
Iraqi women's voices have been virtually silent since the fall of Baghdad. Yet four months after Saddam's statue toppled in April 2003, the pseudonymous Riverbend, a Baghdad native then 24 years old, began blogging about life in the city in dryly idiomatic English and garnered an instant following that rivals Salam Pax's Where Is Raed? This year's worth of Riverbend's commentary--passionate, frustrated, sarcastic and sometimes hopeful--runs to September 2004. Before the war, Riverbend was a computer programmer ("yes, yes... a geek"), living with her parents and brother in relative affluence; as she chronicles the privations her family experiences under occupation, there is a good deal of "complaining and ranting" about erratic electricity, intermittent water supplies, near daily explosions, gas shortages and travel restrictions. She rails against the interim governing council ("the puppet government") and Bush and his administration--and is sardonic on Islamic fundamentalism: as Al Sadr and his followers begin to emerge, Riverbend quotes the Carpenters's "We've Only Just Begun." But Riverbend is most compelling when she gives cultural object lessons on everything from the changing status of Iraqi women to Ramadan, the Iraqi educational system, the significance of date palms and the details of mourning rituals. Just as fascinating are the mundane facts of daily life, like her unsuccessful attempt to go back to work--no one would guarantee the safety of a woman in the workplace. The blog continues at riverbendblog.blogspot.com; like this book, it offers quick takes on events as they occur, from a perspective too often overlooked, ignored or suppressed.
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Riverbend is the pseudonym of a young Iraqi blogger; this book archives the first year of her blog, Baghdad Burning. Once a computer programmer who enjoyed considerable personal freedom, after Baghdad's fall, Riverbend finds herself unemployed and largely restricted to the safety of her family's home. In English that would put many Americans to shame, she chronicles daily life under the occupation, writing about water and electricity shortages with humor and exasperation, writing about violence with deep feeling. She also explains more complicated topics, painting a surprising picture of prewar harmony between religious groups (she herself lives in a mixed Sunni and Shiite household). Riverbend's take on politics is so perceptive that readers may wonder if she is actually a Beltway antiwar activist--although such readers should also question their assumption that an Iraqi couldn't write this well or be so well informed. But the greatest accomplishment of this intriguing book lies in its essential ordinariness. Riverbend is bright and opinionated, true, but like all voices of dissent worth remembering, she provides an urgent reminder that, whichever governments we struggle under, we are all the same. Keir Graff
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