“All I want from life is to be able to live and talk freely without any fear. I don’t really know what I’m saying. The words keep tumbling out. I have no control over them. I am so happy that it is making me scared. Nothing so good has ever happened to me since my return to Iraq. I’ve told you it has always been my dream to leave for a better world. A place where I can have peace of mind before anything else.”- May Witwit, Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad.
May Witwit is an academician in Baghdad who became friends with Bee Rowlatt a journalist in BBC World Service, London. The book ‘Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad’ is about their friendship through emails. They are talking about hair cut, Bee’s children, complaining of their husbands and in the backdrop there are bombings, assassinations and the great game which is yet to end.
Book is a reflection of contrast between the lives in two cities Baghdad & London- invader and invaded one. If you’re looking for those ‘intense moments where you drown deep inside’ I can assure you that this one is definitely not the book to touch. Rather the email exchange between the two is a reflection of ‘dark alley’ where they talk about their daily chores in the world which is all going wrong.
There is anger, frustration and long awaited good luck. Patience is central to the book as there are many anxious moments where one can just feel agitated. By the end of the book, there is hope- a hope which is just a scratch on surface as larger scheme of things remain unresolved.
I don’t know why the publisher named it ‘Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad’; it has very less to do with Jane Austen. Her name comes once in a while and that to as a passing reference. Maybe to make the book popular- a marketing gimmick that actually worked. I bought the book because I found the name very intriguing.
Do I recommend the book? Yes, I do. It is not one of those books which after reading, you end up asking questions larger than life. It is a simple story of a friendship and you are left pondering what happened after that.
There goes the witty Ms. Witwit, whom Saddam Hussein didn’t like much:
“I will never forget the first lecture I gave. It was first year after the invasion. I went into the classroom to find that they had turned their backs to the blackboard, facing the window and when asked for the reason they said, ‘We are living in the state of democracy.’ I smiled and told them about a little incident with my nephew, who was about 6 when the former regime collapsed and people began to talk about democracy. My nephew wore his underpants back to front and when his mother asked him why he had done that, he simply said, ‘It is democracy and we can do what we want.’…”
Ah. Truth is wittier and is always stranger than fiction.