Customer Reviews: Baghdad Solitaire
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on October 9, 2013
Great journalists have an eye for the telling detail, and every page of this book crackles with them, you feel you are there. As an Iraqi-American, every episode of this book reminded me of something that I heard about during the first year of the occupation of Iraq. The background events here are described with the expected practiced eye yet they do not overwhelm either the story, the characters or the pacing. I started reading this book very slowly, trying to decipher whether this or that character was based on someone I know, savoring the details, often taken aback at what has happened to poor Baghdad and all the Iraqis living under enormous pressure. But by the time I reached the middle of the book, the pace became so rapid that I simply finished it in one sitting. The pace of the action is like that of a thriller, and the combination of vivid description of background events while the main characters are in the fore-ground is positively cinematic.
Here is another rare thing for this book; the empathy for the distress that ordinary Iraqis were going through is palpable on every page. It makes one grateful that an author is finally seeing the war from the point of view of the occupied while being an American. This authorial voice while describing the background events is also used as a subtle driving force for the moral education of Lee, the American trauma surgeon who has come to Baghdad on what appeared to be a foolhardy mission of a search and rescue. Like many of the greatest American novels, this one starts with the overly confident heroine who travels to search for something in another part of the world but ending by finding herself.
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on September 9, 2013
I stayed up late and got up early to finish this amazing book. It's got narrative power, great characters and amazing texture. A brilliant journalist, Cockburn knows the Middle East intimately and it shows. But it's not just the breathtakingly authentic details and the suspense that grabs you. In Lee, a dedicated Doctor, Cockburn has created a truly original American hero: a flawed, dedicated, passionate woman, as three-dimensional and compelling as the best LeCarre characters. The other characters are superb as well. The writing's excellent, vivid and descriptive without drawing attention to itself. And authoritative. I really felt I was there, with my heart in my throat. And I was left wanting more. Bring on the sequel!
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on October 7, 2013
I feel confident that the only thing holding me back from giving this book a higher review is my lack of knowledge about what is happening/has happened in the Middle East in the last decade. I refer to specific knowledge and details like faction names, leader references and local class systems and relations between them. Cockburn describes these layers as one who knows and understands them. It is because of this that the story and characters are so believably real and the scenes come to life as though you can smell and taste them. Her descriptions of events, people and setting are somehow stunningly detailed yet efficiently and respectfully presented.
This book was at once a beautiful escape and a head-on collision with the ugly realities present in our world today. Well done.
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on September 7, 2013
The central metaphor of Baghdad Solitaire, Leslie Cockburn's dark, heart pounder of a novel, is the concept that we are all playing alone and that the decks are stacked against themselves. There is no real end to solataire, when it is won, nothing is achieved except to reshuffle the deck and play again. Baghdad Solitaire will be perhaps the most important, definitive portrait of post Saddam Iraq and a war where every player has no opponent but themselves. Although Cockburn has written a page turning, thrill ride through a wilderness of mirrors ala Le Carre or Graham Greene, her book is more resembles Conrad's Heart of Darkness and The Bridge Over The River Kwai in its humanist spirit. At its core, the novel presents another meaning for the solitaire in its title, a precious stone that sits alone in its setting, in this case the character of Laela, a fragile, female artist, who alone in her garden fights to continue to create and nuture and who, while spinning in circles, is brought down by the conflict from within her very bones.
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on August 27, 2013
Set in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Baghdad Solitaire tells the story of a female trauma surgeon who travels to Iraq both on a humanitarian mission and to look for a friend who has disappeared under strange circumstances. Full of danger, intrigue, corruption, and unexpected turns, you will be glued to the book until you finish it! The characters are so diverse and well written, and the details in the story truly incredible and so close to the truth of what was happening in Iraq at the time. Don't wait! order it now. It will be the best book you've read all summer!!
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on September 9, 2013
Full disclosure: I helped Leslie with this book by sitting with her a couple of times and relating my experiences working for the US Embassy in Iraq from May 2004-May 2005. However, I had no idea how powerful and engaging her book would turn out. Leslie nails her descriptions and I can taste, feel, hear and smell the occupation and the war, so much that I had to put the book down for a few days and then return to it and read small excerpts at a time. Her writing is gifted and moving, there is a graceful structure and simplicity to its flow. The story is credible, plausible and possible. The book accurately conveys Iraq under occupation, the currents of resentment and grievance that fueled the insurgency, the hubris and incompetence that guided the occupation, and the horror and tragedy that befell, and continues to befall, countless millions of innocents. Beautiful and haunting, my sincerest appreciation to Leslie for capturing and conveying in a novel what haunts so many of my memories.
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on October 13, 2013
As seen at eye level in Baghdad amongst the Iraqi Sunnis, Shi'ites and Military Brass this account of a year within the 9 year lost cause, is dispassionate, caring, and able to see the the Iraqi Arab in many dimensions. Leslie Cockburn is much too talented to waste her time writing daily dispatches back to her US or British newspaper. There is at least another novel here of the later years of the war, for this book only gets us through 2004. We eagerly await her work on Afghanistan.

She describes the confusion and cross purposes that drove the US Military without getting into another 2nd hand acccount of Washington war politics.and the jostling of bureaucratic nimcompoops and Senators. Its down to earth and very gripping.
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on December 26, 2013
The storyline is good but what makes this book worthwhile is the information tucked into the story. The amount of theft in the Iraq war by us- the American war effort- a well as the Iraqians is unbelievable. The author was there between 1999 and 2004 as a journalist and much of what is in the book she says she saw while there.
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on October 12, 2013
Baghdad Solitaire is a page turner with a difference. The underlying theme is the moral cost of the war in Iraq, added to the cost in lives, and compounded by the destruction of a brilliant culture and the looting of museums. Sad to say, the corruption of the American occupiers is no surprise. The hero is beautiful, of course, as befits a thriller, but she is a doctor with a mission that goes beyond healing the wounded. An excellent read. Paul Woodruff
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on December 20, 2013
Many books, documentaries, and feature films have emerged
from the never ending and tragic Iraq War.
Leslie Cockburn's brilliant first novel, Baghdad Solitaire,
stands head and shoulders above most of these endeavors.
Cockburn’s players are inspiring war zone survivors, and dubious dealmakers. It is an exhilarating loner’s game, and this stunning novel could easily be adapted into a wonderful movie.

Lee McGuinness is an American doctor returning alone to Baghdad in search of her missing friend, Martin, a salt of the earth relief worker for Project Refugee. A well-publicized kidnapping, Lee is an unlikely detective;
she is politely dismissed by Iraqi officials, and ignored by the military.
Lee believes she is the only one who will not give up on finding Martin.

Baghdad Solitaire merges a war without a battlefield with a dramatic and unpredictable,
shape-shifting search for her endangered man.
Lee's professional presence, quiet intelligence, and laser focus, reflects off Cockburn's career as a very well-respected international journalist, often producing stories for 60 Minutes and other news outlets.
Lee is a fearless doctor, but her search for Martin takes her beyond her comfort zone, as she blends in with thousands of Iraqis who also agonize over missing loved ones and unsolved kidnappings. I was mesmerized as Lee deals with her inescapable fears and frustrations, yet, goes deeper and deeper into a Baghdad that is seething with anger and betrayal -- emotions with no curfew but no where to go.

Baghdad Solitaire liberates us from the clichés embedded in our ignorant assumptions about Iraq and the Iraqi people. Cockburn awakens humanity, a rich history, and many Baghdad daily rituals that have been sadly compromised. This novel could only be written by someone who has hit the ground running to get their story or to survive the next moment. It's a loners' game, but one worth playing.
Patricia Foulkrod, Director, The Ground Truth
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