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Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity-My Own and What It Means to Be a Woman in Chaos Paperback – August 1, 2010

3.6 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

An American aid worker of Palestinian descent, Omar left an anxious family and a job at the World Bank in the Washington, D.C. area, for Baghdad in 2003 in order to help Iraqi women navigate the post-invasion turmoil in her new position at Women for Women International. Her book chronicles her experiences in war-torn Iraq, detailing the curtailed options facing many Iraqi women and the increasing dangers facing aid workers. Omar also outlines the tension between American troops and nongovernmental organizations, highlighting the risks involved in turning to the army for help. In the midst of the chaos, Omar forges life-long friendships and benefits from the generosity of the Iraqi people. As the country tilts perilously close to chaos, Omar is forced to evacuate briefly, an experience that brings home all that her life in Iraq means to her. Omar provides a rare glimpse into facets of Iraqi life not often described in American newspapers and magazines as she describes not only the dangers but also the joys, small and great. --Katherine Boyle

Review

"Omar provides a rare glimpse into facets of Iraqi life not often described in American newspapers and magazines as she describes not only the dangers but also the joys, small and great." - Booklist

"Giving both an insider's and an outsider's view of the unfolding drama of Iraq, the memoir should prove worthwhile reading for anyone who has a keen interest in developments in the Middle East." - Book Pleasures

"We gain a picture of Baghdad beyond the Green Zone and through the eyes of a bright, young, idealistic humanitarian." - A Traveler's Library

"A must read." - East County Magaine

"You may not be able to lay Barefoot in Baghdad down for a while. This book will capture your interest." - South by Southwest
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks; Reprint edition (August 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402237219
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402237218
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,231,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Manal is an American Muslim who follows Muslim traditions and chooses to wear a veil. She seeks out opportunity to return to Iraq, a country she fell in love with years ago and becomes the director of a small organization to assist women in Iraq; the women who are primary breadwinners but unskilled, widows, divorced women, and others.

The story begins with Manal attempting to assist Kalthoum, a 16 year old girl who was married off at the age of 13, raped and abused, and escapes to the streets to become a prostitute. Manal's mission is to find a safe place for this girl before her family claims her and honorably executes her for dirtying their name.

This is a strong beginning and grabs my attention. Unfortunately, there are few things within the pages that hold my attention. Most of the book is Omar telling the reader about the politics of Iraq, including the different organizations and brutally painting the United States soldiers as insensitive and uncouth, describing their poor decisions regarding the war in Iraq, its occupation, and organizations that were wrong. At the same time, Omar contrasts her own work and decisions to live among the Iraqi downtrodden, her embracing of the Iraqi way, her sensitivity and Muslim lifestyle, and occasionally includes a brief story of her work as a humanitarian aid worker.

What disappointed me about this book is that I found Omar's agenda to be splashed on nearly every page that the military was wrong and she wanted nothing to do with them. She was an aid worker and balked at any association.
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Format: Paperback
Despite her family's opposition to Omar's assuming the position of country director in Iraq with Women for Women International, a group that helped female survivors of war to rebuild their lives, she quickly took up the reins of such a position, proving her worth in her many encounters with those women whom she helped free from a life of degradation and fear. The dichotomy of her status, as both Arab and American, born in Saudi Arabia to Palestinian parents and raised in the American South, as a Muslim and a woman, she was in an ideal position to negotiate the hazardous and diverse microcosm of Iraq, still trying to recover from the ravages of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. In this moving memoir, she describes how she was among the first international aid workers to arrive in Baghdad in 2003. Barefoot in Baghdad tells of the two years that she spent working with Iraqi women as they struggled to create a new nation and a new identity for themselves.

Omar describes her daily battle to overcome prejudices in the society, which were present in many forms. She not only had to suppress her own misgivings about having to work sometimes in close conjunction with the US-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority, but also to persuade her Iraqi colleagues of the integrity of her intent. She asks a telling question at the outset of the memoir: "Who was better equipped to adapt within a country experiencing a period of tumultuous change than someone who had been raised with an ever-shifting identity?"

The redemptive nature of this tale, both on a personal and broader societal front, conveys a central message of hope overcoming what might so easily have been a position of despair.
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Format: Paperback
Take a journey inside Iraq during 2002-2004. See the people, hear from them, observe their struggles. The author writes her memoirs of being on the ground in Iraq, actively helping women rise above terrible situations while the war is waging and while danger was always lurking. This book helped me to get a view into the lives of real Iraqi people. Good reading for cultural learning. Author Manal Omar writes from a perspective not too keen on U.S. occupation in Iraq but acknowledges some of the benefits that came out of it. We all need to be willing to look at the situation with an open mind. Her parents were against her going to Iraq and thought she was out of her mind. Today they must be so proud of her.
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Format: Paperback
Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

One reason I found this book interesting was that it provided a potential "Consider This" selection for the eleventh edition of my college textbook COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY (McGraw-Hill, 2012). In my textbook I have a chapter called "Intercultural Communication," and I am always on the lookout for possible "boxed" additions -- that is, sections that provide student readers with additional, insightful, and informative material that enhances, explains, or illustrates what is written in the text.

I have found Omar's explanation of her multiple identities instructive, and the fact that it gave her her "own secret superpower" a useful insight-especially in the variety of different ways she was able to make use of that power.

The second reason I found this book interesting is that I have engaged in a great deal of foreign travel, and Omar's description of and personal insights about Iraq are simply fascinating. Admittedly, many are personal -- and she states that at the outset. But, having lived in Bangladesh for 14 months, I agree and concur with her observations.

The third reason I found this book interesting is found in Omar's stories. They are captivating and heartwrenching, to say the least. The story of the five Iraqi girls inside an American trailer in the Green Zone (pp. 137-163) was especially touching.

The fourth reason this book is interesting is that it (along with a number of other books) well advertises the plight of women in many parts of the world. If you are a woman, and if you want to champion women's rights any place on the planet, this would be a good book to read to establish the foundation for strong arguments and to gather evidence for convincing disputation.

These four reasons alone are sufficient to recommend this book highly. It is interesting, insightful, and captivating.
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