Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Review: Iraq Through a Bullet Hole: A Civilian Returns Home

Iraq Through a Bullet Hole: A Civilian Returns Home

By Issam Jameel

Author Issam Jameel was an ordinary, educated man (a playwright) who opposed the lack of liberty under the politics of Saddam Hussein and as a result removed himself to Jordan to escape persecution in Iraq.  His time outside Iraq eventually lengthened to 12 years and saw him settle in Australia in 2002 and become an Australian citizen.

In 2005, Jameel returned to Iraq to attempt to fulfill his familial role as the eldest male in the family, to console his brother in the loss of his son (Jameel's nephew), killed accidentally by American forces.  In the Introduction, the author addresses the time-lapse between his visit to Iraq in the summer of 2005 and the publication of this book in 2008 by explaining that he originally had not thought of writing about his experiences, but then realized that by writing in English, he might make available to people outside some important observations of life in Iraq which they don't usually see in the media.  I believe his use of English rather than his native language helped him objectify much of his reaction to the turmoil in his homeland and in his family.

In the format of a diary, Jameel's fear-filled journey into Baghdad and his adjustments to the totally disrupted lives of his family unfold in a close-up of real life.  Issues of religious difference and intolerance challenge Jameel's attitude of tolerance.  Misunderstandings and miscalculations of US forces and the increase of Sunni/Shia antagonism have made Baghdad a more chaotic city than it was when he left 12 years earlier.  His visit to Kirkuk provides a relatively peaceful contrast to Baghdad.

It's true that this book doesn't read as a novel, and no doubt the use of non-native English may contribute to a bit of stiffness; however, I suspect that what some have criticized as a lack of passion in the author is rather more due to a cultural reticence to fly into a rage or rant.  Or to put it another way, when feeling overwhelmed, ranting, raging, and preaching become obviously useless.  Despite the useless death of his nephew by "friendly" US forces, he also refrains from blaming any single group for this personal tragedy or for the tragedy of his country as a whole.

This book exemplifies the significance of one ordinary person trying to make day-to-day sense out of confusion, inconvenience, and a disintegration of normal civilization.  Although brief at 174 pages of large-print text, this book includes footnotes to several incidents of bombings or attacks and several maps of Baghdad and b/w photos.

The subjects of the Middle East, Iraq, and the war are not my speciality, but I have read and can recommend the following works in this area: A Sky So Close by Betool Khedairi and Baghdad Diaries: A Woman’s Chronicle of War and Exile by Nuha Al-Radi


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