A Hundred and One Days: A Baghdad Journal

A Hundred And One Days by Asne Seierstad

Genre: Non-Fiction

Iraq’s deterioration as a nation started in 1980 because of the 8 year Iran-Iraq war started by Saddam Hussein and then the disastrous invasion of Kuwait 2 years after the war. And then there was the 12 years UN sanction.

Asne Seierstad goes on a 10 day visa as a reporter in Baghdad for Scandinavian, German, and the Dutch media. She is there to cover a possible war between Iraq and America. But Iraq is in the clutches of Saddam Hussein and the journalists are not allowed to go anywhere without a minder and without getting written permission from the Ministry of Information, which is like keeping watch on the foreign journalists and what they could possibly leak to the outside world. Saddam Hussein wanted the entire world to know that his people love and respect him and that Iraq has prospered under his regime.

Asne is caught between wanting to write something of value and fearing the wrath of the Iraqi Ministry and being kicked out of the country. And she wants to be there for the scoop and the major stories when war hits.

I am here to find dissidents, a secret uprising, gagged intellectuals, Saddam’s opponents. I am here to point out human rights violations, expose oppression. And I’m reduced to being a tourist.

This book is divided into 3 sections -Before, during and after.
When Asne came to Iraq, she had only 10 days visa and like other journalists she wanted to extend her stay as long as possible. The things she did to extend her visa and also to come back after leaving Iraq once after her Visa expired, was very interesting. You can’t help but admire her persistence.

Iraq’s citizens are preparing for war, some are leaving the country, and some are stocking food and other essential things in case the war lasts longer. As Asne slowly and steadily goes into the heart of the city, she gets snippets of what exactly is beneath the surface. And then one day, the inevitable happens.

At four in the morning Bush’s ultimatum expires. At five-thirty the first bang is heard. I am wide awake, my heart thumping. I sneak out onto the balcony, first crouching in case of missiles, then standing up. Powerful impacts, air-craft noise and vigorous shooting from the Iraqi anti-aircraft missiles can be heard. From the balconies above I hear a Babelesque confusion of voices-Spanish, Arabic, English, French. We all stand staring out into the half-light and see the dim outline of the Presidential palace on the opposite side of the Tigris.

Most of the Iraqi’s secretly want to get rid of Saddam Hussein so in a way they are waiting for the Americans to start a war. Bush had promised to bomb only military sites. So they think they are safe. But once the war starts, things start to get ugly. Hundreds of innocent citizens are killed. The destruction, the mayhem caused is unbelievable. And so is the Bush bashing.

It’s very difficult to stop because I don’t want to give away everything. Can you tell I loved A Hundred and One Days? It read like a thriller. I got insights into how journalists report in war zones. It was fascinating and scary. Asne Seierstad is one brave woman.

Reading this book was like lifting a cloud of doubt and confusion that had settled itself in my mind after watching tons of conflicting news and documentaries over the years about the American Invasion of Iraq and the Saddam Hussein regime.

Its not that I know everything now, but I believe I know every side of the situation and can now watch or read one side of it without being confused or without getting anything else I read about it in the way. Why did some Iraqi’s rejoice and some mourn the defeat of Saddam Hussein? Why were Iraqi’s so against the Americans when they liberated them from a tyrant? You’ll understand all this and more when you read this book. Finally, my heart goes out to thousands of Iraqi people who suffered for years under Saddam Hussein and are still suffering in one way or the other. I really hope peace prevails soon.

4.5 out of 5. Highly Recommended.

Oh by the way, Asne Seierstad is also the author of Bookseller of Kabul.

I am adding this to Orbis Terrarum Challenge. The author is from Norway

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My Father’s Paradise by Ariel Sabar

Title: My Father’s Paradise
Author: Ariel Sabar
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin Books (August 21, 2008)
Hardcover: 325 pages
Rating: 5/5

I read the first 100 pages of this book and then I misplaced it. I was very disappointed as I was really into it. And then after some time I found it again. It had slipped underneath my bed from the tiny space between the bed and the wall. When I started reading it again from the point I left, I couldn’t follow the story, so I thought I would skim the first 100 pages again. But I ended reading them instead of skimming. And I’m so glad I did. I understood the book so much better because of that. For someone like me who didn’t know anything about Kurdish Jews or Zakho, I’m actually glad I misplaced it. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to re-read the beginning too. I know that’s just me. That’s just to say how engrossing the book was even the second time around.

In a small and dusty village called Zakho at the border of Iraq, nestled between the mountains and almost secluded from the rest of Iraq, a boy called Yona Sabagha, Ariel Sabar’s father, was born. Yona was the son of Rahmain and grandson of Ephraim, who was a respected dyer and was known to talk to angels. Yona spent his first 11 years in Zakho, a place where where Muslims and Jews lived in Harmony. But somewhere around the time of the Second World War, things began to change. The Arab Islamic movement took hold in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq, which resulted in conflicts between the Jews and Muslims. Majority of the Jews from the Arab World fled to Israel. Along with the millions of Jews, Yona’s family too had to go.

In Israel, Yona struggled with life and getting a job and studying. What really amazed me was the courage and conviction of Yona and his friends to become something, to pull themselves and families above the poverty line. When Yona was granted scholarship in the States, he decided to take it. There he met his future wife. So in a way his son Ariel did not experience or know what it was like to be a Kurdish Jew. He was an American through and through. Yona could never really accept the American culture, nor could he go back to his past .So he was in a way strange to his son.

After many years Ariel decides to go back to Zakho with his father in the hopes of getting to know him better and also to close the rift that had divided them for so many years.

I absolutely LOVED this book. It reads like fiction where he describes his father and his life and like non-fiction where he writes about the Kurdish Jews and the history of Aramaic. But no where does it get boring or over-bearing. The descriptions of Zakho, what it was like then and now, were mesmerizing. It was like discovering a whole new world.

The journey of a son to understand his father, his past and his own roots was beautiful, heartbreaking, captivating and hopeful. This book felt like a tribute to his father and the Jews from Zakho who are relatively unknown to the world. Author Ariel Sabar has documented history in the most beautiful way possible.

Very highly recommended. Let me know if you need more convincing.

arielsabarAbout the author:
Ariel Sabar covered the 2008 U.S. presidential campaigns for the Christian Science Monitor and is an award-winning former staff writer for the Baltimore Sun and the Providence (RI) Journal. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, The Times Sunday Magazine, The Washington Monthly, Mother Jones, Moment, Christianity Today and other publications. He lives with his wife and two children in Washington, D.C. This is his first book.