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Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories Paperback – Bargain Price, October 25, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Paperback, Bargain Price, October 25, 2011
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Editorial Reviews


“Anna Badkhen writes about war with a beautiful sensuality, connecting us to those otherwise nameless, faceless fighters and indigenous peoples ensnared in its horrors and hardships. Peace Meals takes us into these people’s kitchens, and into their souls.”

—Norman Ollestad, author of New York Times bestseller Crazy for the Storm

“Anna Badkhen is a hero among women —war correspondent, wife, mother, diplomat, and, with the publication of this book, a sensitive and lyrical human-interest reporter from the outer reaches of the world. Peace Meals takes us not only into the hearts and homes of some of the least-understood (and most interesting) people in war zones, it fearlessly explores the wrenching moral conflicts every war journalist faces. This is a beautiful, vivid, gripping book —with some fabulous recipes.”

—Amy Chua, author of World on Fire and Day of Empire

Peace Meals is an extraordinary mosaic built of keen observation and uncommon compassion. So much more than mere war reportage, Badkhen attunes her ear to fundamental questions that war time activities: what are the causes of hate and what are the measurable and immeasurable costs of war? What does it mean to resist, to persist, and when is it worth it? Badkhen maintains an unswerving gaze not only at the complex subject matters she investigates but also at her own role as a reporter. Always her conclusions resonant with authenticity and compassion as she renders accounts that neither judge nor praise; neither sensationalize nor diminish. People are more than their stories, Badkhen asserts line by line. Because of this Badkhen can find beauty in the brokenness. She describes a profound generosity evidenced with astonishing regularity. It comes in the most humble and necessary of human acts: eating.”

—Gina Ochsner, author of The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight

"The philosophical connection is interesting...absorbing observations...An intriguing premise." —Kirkus

"Illuminates the strange, dark history of the past couple of decades—the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and drought-stricken East Africa. Most chapters chronicle her connections with particular individuals...each character providing insight into local customs and quirks, but more significantly, illustrates and humanizes regional complexities. Badkhen regularly encounters real danger, but meets it with compassion and graveyard humor...the resulting range of events both large and small is both honest and real." —Publishers Weekly

"Promising...With careful observation, [Badkhen] sees beyond the heartbreaking stories of the families and soldiers, refugees and warlords, she meets. Her eloquent, honest words tell an in-depth history of recent war, and also make known courageous and resourceful people whose actions, or lack thereof, are forced by circumstance." —Christian Science Monitor

"[A] gritty memoir of Afghanistan and Iraq that focuses not on frontline reportage but on behind-the-scenes kindnesses of local families, many of whom shared their hearths, and their bread, with the foreign journalist. In Peace Meals [Badkhen] uses those simple meals as a window, a graceful way to bear witness to the devastation she was covering. But don't think that her book is about food. It's about humanity." —Entertainment Weekly

About the Author

Anna Badhken was born in the Soviet Union and moved to a Massachusetts suburb in 2004. She has been covering conflicts since 2001, first for the San Francisco Chronicle, and later, for such publications as The New Republic, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, Salon.com, Ms. Magazine, Marie Claire, PBS Frontline/World, the National (Abu Dhabi), Center for Investigative Reporting, and Truthdig.com. Her wartime reporting won the 2007 Joel R. Seldin Award for reporting on civilians in war zones from Psychologists for Social Responsibility. She also was a finalist, in 2002 and 2005, for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists in the International Reporting category. She is 34 years old.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (October 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439166501
  • ASIN: B0078XZ2M8
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,846,806 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anna Badkhen writes about people in extremis. She is the author of five books of literary nonfiction, most recently "Walking with Abel" (Riverhead Books, 2015). Badkhen has written about wars on four continents, including the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Chechnya. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper's, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, Guernica, and other publications.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Anna is that rare war correspondent with natural writing gifts, an empathetic heart, and a sharp eye for the telling detail. There's nothing bombastic or look-at-me bravura with her prose that often inflicts Hemingway/Jungar journos risking life and limb to report from war zones, alas to an American public long weary of conflicts raging on the other side of the world. Anna was the very first Iraq War correspondent I had interviewed for my first book, Embedded:The Media at War in Iraq (2003). It felt odd to be in contact with someone in a war zone while I was safe here in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a worthy member of the Fallaci/Gelhorn school of war reporting. Her prose nestles inside your head--in near cinematic overtones, and not always comfortably. Your sensibilities, prejudices, and prior opinions are reshuffled. "So this is how they really live..." when you read her descriptions of the others-- you know, the civilians in faraway places with their own history and customs, and who bear the brunt of suffering and tragedy when politicians unleash the dogs of war.
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Format: Hardcover
Peace Meals is a true story about war and food as told by correspondent Anna Badkhen. 'In the midst of the tragedy of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and conflict in places like Chechnya, East Africa, post-Soviet states, and Palestine, Badkhen finds commonality in sharing meals with the people she met as a journalist in some of the most dangerous places on earth.

Through her words we get to meet families like that of Ahmad Shawkat in northern Iraq and share dolma (stuffed grape leaves) with them as we learn the story of their survival and hope for a country whose future is still uncertain.

She takes us through many accounts of what she witnessed, some horrific and heartbreaking, some heartwarming, and some even humorous, but all come back to the common ground of breaking bread together. Each chapter takes the reader to a different place with different people and the food that was shared, and ends with recipes of the dishes she was offered. But this is not a cookbook. It is one woman's journey to report on the brutal facts of war but in doing so, found so much more in sharing life with the people she met along the way.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Instead of rehashing her own travails while reporting in the world's war zones--the usual masturbatory trope of so many war correspondents--Badkhen takes us into unknown territory: the overlooked lives of millions of ordinary people who are trapped in mass violence. Her tools are a writerly eye for the human dramas that occur at the margins of battle fields; an ear for uncelebrated stories of survival; and a taste for the flavors of mercy that bind us all as human beings in times of extremity. A humble, original, eloquent, humane and very important book about a brutal decade of conflict.
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Format: Paperback
Anna Badkhen has written a worthwhile book with a somewhat innovative structure, drawing on her experiences in the war-zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other historic events, such as the hostage crisis in Moscow's Dubrovka Theater. She turns the wars and conflicts inside out and speaks with wry humor and humanistic devotion from the tables shared with translators, soldiers and citizens she met while researching news stories published elsewhere. From the perspective of the table and its food, shared by all, the wars and the continuities between seem, or should seem, more real than and somehow even more tragic.

This is where my reading experience ran aground. Contrary other reviews posted here, I didn't find this book to be highly literary. In fact, I think it suffers from reporter's acumen in places which would otherwise be quite moving. Many English-language authors, Hemingway included, who wrote for newspapers before or concurrently while writing stories and novels suffer from an inability to shift gears between the language or reporting and the language of literature. They employ an overlapping set of devices, but ultimately news, remaining objective in language, is not supposed to move you the way novels and stories -- which need and want no concept of bias -- can and should. Journalistic strength can be literary weakness. As I read this novel I often found myself frustrated by the distance at which I was kept from the joy and tragedy. I wanted to feel the sorrow of death, the relief of reaching safety, and that overwhelming endorphin-barrage that comes with eating after days and days.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this collection after reading Anna Badkhen's new book-length account of Afghanistan The World is a Carpet: Four Seasons in an Afghan Village. Both books provide close looks at groups of people, and in "Peace Meals," her experience and perspective cover several countries and conflicts.

I focused mostly on the chapters dealing with her Iraq experience, since I also traveled there as a freelance embedded photojournalist from 2007-09. Badkhen, however, reported from the country in the 2003 era, before security fell apart. She writes about her experiences being able to travel around Baghdad with a pair of friends - something that was rendered impossible by the time of her later trips in 2005 and 2008, when she was forced into the embedded cocoon of the US military. By then, there was no way for a westerner to stay safe by themselves.

I appreciated Badkhen's willingness to name names, even when it's uncomplimentary. One soldier, tearing open bags of flour, basically wrecking someone's house, is a microcosm of all our failures there - I'm sure he didn't appreciate seeing his name in the newspaper or in this book. But like she quotes a battalion commander, after he read one of Badkhen's often-critical stories, "It happened."

Her knowledge of US military equipment and nomenclature is also very good. I'm a veteran myself, so I had a fair amount of familiarity with the various gear and vehicles. Badkhen had to learn all these finer details - and she clearly did. I didn't notice any mistakes or exaggerations.

Some of her stories are taken directly from her previous newspaper reporting, and this book now provides additional context.
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