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Howling in Mesopotamia: An Iraqi-American Memoir Hardcover – April 2, 2008
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About the Author
- Item Weight : 1.19 pounds
- Hardcover : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0825305489
- ISBN-13 : 978-0825305481
- Dimensions : 6.45 x 1.07 x 8.94 inches
- Publisher : Beaufort Books; 1st edition (April 2, 2008)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #3,635,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I appreciate how this memoir is written without unnecessary drama, hyperbole, or an agenda - just keen, plain observation, that keeps the pages turning. Arrived from Amazon on Friday, was done reading it the next day.
Beyond the the relevance to the situation in Iraq, it'll speak to anyone with bonds to multiple cultures - this book is a product of this transcultural, globalized world we live in.
Hamoudi traverses the Iraqi nation and gets to talk and interact with Iraqi natives and Americans who are there to help rebuild the nation. He listens closely to the personal stories of Iraqis and gets a perspective on how they feel about the changes that have taken place in the past few years. He takes part in different Iraqi festivals and soaks up the culture. He exchanges words with Iraqis who don't quite understand the American way of life and cannot understand why Americans speak and act the way they do. He comes away from his experience with a feeling of despair but also a glimmer of hope. Conditions are bad, and many Iraqis fear for their lives every day. But there is always that small chance that, one day, Iraqi will be able to stand on its own, defend itself, and offer a stable government for its people.
The collective mood of the Iraqi people is certainly foul, but there are a few bright spots. One is the fact that Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge of the government. The book is quick to point out the jubilation that was felt by the majority of Iraqis when Saddam Hussein was no longer a threat and the equally joyous occasion when Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed in a gunfight. Hussein's brutal regime was largely feared and despised in Iraq, and few if any tears were shed when Hussein and his boys were eliminated from the country. But does this mean that Iraq a safe place to be?- Far from it, in the eyes of the author and those living in Iraq. Even though Saddam is gone, the country is in complete disarray and frequent mention is made of the seemingly indifferent attitude of the Americans in Iraq and how they have done little to nothing to help transition the nation from dictatorship to democracy. In the minds of the Iraqi people, the American forces either do not care or do not know what to do. With people dying from gunfire on a daily basis, Iraqis don't feel much safer than they did under Saddam and they long for the day when the U.S. forces are gone and they can reclaim their land.
This book offers many personal stories about the time Hamoudi spent in Iraq and he lets his own feelings shine forth on many occasions. His whirlwind of emotions is one of the book's many strong points. He feels for his family and misses them dearly. He is saddened by the tragedy that has befallen his nation and wishes it would improve quickly. He is appalled by the sight of filth in the cities and in the countryside. But he is also very excited at the book's end when he meets the woman he will eventually marry. Still, the overall feeling is bleak. Hamoudi came to Iraq hoping to offer a helping hand in the reconstruction of his homeland but his optimism gradually diminishes with each passing day as he bears witness to the ruined nation around him- a nation no closer to political stability than it was in the days of Saddam.
Howling in Mesopotamia is a very personal and powerful book about one man's journey to his homeland and his interactions with his family and fellow countrymen. The writing in this book is impeccable, and it makes for a great companion when you're in the mood for some reading that almost seems too surreal to be true. Some parts read like a work of fiction. But make no mistake: this is a work of non- fiction through and through, even though the author probably wishes it was a fictional novel rather than the cold, hard truth.
Regime change in Iraq hasn't been easy. Saddam is gone, but chaos and disorder are still part of life in this ancient land. The poor living conditions of the people, the turmoil of the government, and the ruinous state of the economy are all realities in post- Saddam Iraq and while the situation looks gloomy, there is still an iota of hope that Iraq might be a stable country once again. Howling in Mesopotamia explains it all, from the perspective of a man who grew up in Ohio to Iraqi parents and still hopes his homeland will be safe and secure in the not- too- distant future. Hope is all that many have left, as the war continues to drag on and on with no end in sight and little or no progress toward stability. This book explains the current situation well, and it ranks as one of the best books I have read on this subject.
In this he failed as he tells us in the final pages. He tells us why candidly. He writes: "...between air conditioning failures, power cuts, limited grocery options, appallingly slow internet connections, a near entire lack of recreation, and, of course, a constant fear of annihilation, life was becoming unbearable, my ability to write limited, and my efforts to teach Iraqi students psychologically exhausting, I felt myself wasting away." (p. 271)
Note well the practical and personal nature of his concerns. How easy it would have been--and how empty--for Professor Hamoudi to say he could not achieve success because the American occupation had been so poorly planned and executed, because the uneducated and warring Iraqi fractions were at one another's throats and were not ready for democracy. How easy it would have been to blame others, but characteristically Hamoudi blames himself and accepts personal responsibility for his "failure."
But it was not a failure because one of the things that came from his experience was this book. It is a great success itself because it shows the Iraqi people--and especially this particular Iraqi, himself--in a genuinely human way, complete with shortcomings and strengths, complete with differing ideas and beliefs, but with very much the same humanity that we all share.
Curiously enough this memoir is also a charming love story that takes the reader by surprise. Here is how Hamoudi recalls the first conversion with his future wife, Sara, whom he met while working in Kurdistan Iraq.
"'I am sorry, remind me of your name one more time?' I asked.
"She looked confused, but replied, `Sara.'
"'Sara, Professor Saman said you were interested in applying for a Fulbright, and I would like to help you. Have you completed the application?'
Sara is confused. They are conversing in Arabic, but that is not Sara's native tongue. After some further confusion, Hamoudi asks again, "'Did you not actually apply for the Fulbright? Do I have the wrong person?'
"She shook her head from side to side and stared at me, unsure of what I was saying."
At this point Hamoudi decides to go and fetch Professor Saman.
"I turned to the door. Suddenly I heard a lovely voice.
"'O thou Professor, dost thou refer to the application whose pages must be completed in full along with the most favorable recommendations sent by professors that doth hold me in the highest regard?'"
Hamoudi says, "Huh?" And then gets an inspiration: "'What dost thou say?'
"With this the most beautiful smile I had ever seen appeared on Sara's face. `I understandeth thy latest utterance thou professor of wisdom!'
"'Dost thou understand only classical Arabic?' I was feeling rather stupid speaking this way but had no alternative." (p. 200)
As they say in Hollywood: Boy meets girl, cute!
Of course love in Islamic lands is rather formal. They can hardly be together and certainly not alone. He can buy her a friendship present, maybe, but not a romantic one! And to use the word "love"--well, here is how they managed it over the telephone:
"'Haider?' she asked, as I was preparing to hang up the telephone.
"'I want to teach you a new Kurdish word before you go.'
"'In case one day you want to tell your mother, or maybe your aunt, "I love you" in Kurdish, this is how you say it--Khoshem Ewet.'
"'Got it. I am sure my Arab mother and aunt will like that.'
"'Goodbye again, then, Haider.'
"'Khoshem Ewet, Sara Khan.'
"A pause, then, in English, a language she did not know well, `I love you too.'" (p. 217)
I came away from reading this book with a new understanding and appreciation of the Iraqi people. Initially I was disposed to question Professor Hamoudi's motives, figuring that he was just another of those privileged exiled Iraqis, like Ahmad Chalabi, who promoted the invasion of Iraqi for personal gain. But Hamoudi reveals himself (as one must in telling such a long and personal story) to be sincere, hardworking, intelligent, diplomatic (very! and patient), vulnerable, more heroic than he knows, a man of the world who understands better than most of us not only what has happened and is happening in Iraq, but a man who has that understanding as both an American and an Iraqi who is an Arab Muslim. If we had more people like Professor Hamoudi in this world, the quarrels, the misunderstandings, the suspicions and hatreds that exist among people would be largely quelled and the world would be a better place.
I hope this book is widely read, as it deserves to be.