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Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories Hardcover – October 12, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“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 Badkhen was born in the Soviet Union and moved to the United States in 2004. She began covering conflicts in 2001 and has written about people in extremis from four continents for Foreign Policy, The New Republic, The New York Times, and other publications. Her wartime reporting won the 2007 Joel R. Seldin Award for reporting on civilians in war zones from Psychologists for Social Responsibility. She lives in Philadelphia.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 143916648X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439166482
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #358,712 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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: 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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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
This book reflects upon a journalist's overseas assignments. It is very personal and intimate, especially because the author names names and ties various stories together by food she shares with locals. People must eat no matter what even if bombs are being dropped. We learn what war does to people and their land. Despite vast differences in customs and culture, we share common humanity among all peoples.

Writing is journalistic, not high literature. It was not meant to be. I learned about countries I've never been to and wars that I've only read about. I recommend this book.
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