Every Man in This Village is a Liar

As a twenty-five year old reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Megan Stack covered the carnage of the Middle East as nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon imploded. Her unique contribution to the literature of this regional catastrophe is to distill this story of ancient divisions into a memoir that explores how witnessing the mayhem forever fractured her own life into shards of guilt, disillusion, and loss.

A fine prose stylist, Stack memorably describes the ravaged landscapes of fear in Every Man in This Village is a Liar: An Education in War. Walking back to her hotel in war-torn Baghdad, Stack writes: “I waded into night, and the lights buried themselves behind me. . . A darkness like that overpowers everything. War comes studded with darkness, power outages, and shadows and dark roads.” Stack also understands terror. When she visits Libya, nobody talks to her about dictator Moammar Qaddafi, and Stack sagely observes, “If you accumulate everything that is unmentionable, feared, stamped out, then you have an idea of just how much terror people have swallowed.”

Terror visits her as well. In Lebanon, she’s bombed by Israeli warplanes. In Iraq, she witnesses the horrific aftermath of car bombings that leave body parts everywhere. In “democratic” Egypt, she watches the army use artillery to stop voters and is assaulted by government thugs. Unsurprisingly, she grows disillusioned about the role of the U.S., as she chronicles the propping-up of dictators and the spread of violence in the name of democracy.

Stack feels most alienated when she returns home to a post-9/11 U.S. that feels victimized, revengeful, and indifferent to the suffering of others: “people felt assaulted, they believed they had the moral high ground,” writes Stack,  “But I had seen U.S. warplanes drop bombs on villages of mud brick, and children killed.” And her education has left her stranded between two worlds: “I wound up nowhere, neither here nor there.”