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Sisters in War: A Story of Women, Life, and Death in Iraq

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  • Posted July 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Women's Voices as Historical Record

    Sisters in War, by Christina Asquith, documents the lives of four women in war-ravaged Iraq. Asquith anchors her story with names and events that are the memorable war headlines of American news in 2003-2004. She then reveals truths that were not known state-side: details of events and their effect on women's lives, and how the continued American military presence affects the Iraqi people outside the enclave known as the Green Zone. Iraqi sisters Zia and Nunu experience pre-Sadam and post-Sadam Iraq, and find their daily lives, education and sense of a future interrupted and altered beyond their control. American Army reservist Heather arrives in war-ravaged Iraq, with a naïve dream and official mandate to bring American-style women's rights, as defined by American military strategists, to a traditional conservative Muslim society. She collaborates with American aid worker Manal, who understands both cultures and attempts to bridge West and Middle East in Iraq, as she has in her own life. The day-to-day details of four women's lives chillingly reveal the impact of war, in ways that more formal reports of troop movements and statistical analyses do not. We know that soldiers are horribly traumatized by war. Still, if one considers the broad cultural devastation perpetrated by war, it is written indelibly in the minds, hearts and lives of the non-combatants: most often women, children and the elderly. Civilians in war zones are murdered, gang-raped, tortured, displaced and bereft of home, food, clothing and education. Families and communities are disrupted, often destroyed. Rarely are the day-to-day details of civilian war experience honored in the recording of political change. The bystanders are unknown, stripped of identity and dignity, marginalized by historical record, and transformed into riveting anonymous photographs and textual footnotes. Asquith's telling of the inept arrogance of American military decisions reveals a narcissistic political solipsism, reminiscent of the 1958 novel The Ugly American, by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer. Tell it she does, with flawless straightforward prose that clearly exposes the suffering caused by a protracted war that did not have to happen. Asquith is equally articulate as she describes details that reveal the strength and determination of women whose choices are restricted by cultural constraints and military regulations. History books and the documentation of political conflict and war have been written primarily about powerful men, by powerful men. Even with the inclusion of women in government, on foreign battlefields and in major newsrooms, war and history are still, officially, first and foremost, male domain and enterprise. Through the writing of Sisters in War, Asquith contributes significantly to correcting this omission in historical documentation. More women's stories need to be told. There is a fifth sister in this Iraq war narrative. We can read this story because Christina Asquith, a compassionate and committed journalist, spent two years reporting from Baghdad. It is through her willingness to tell the truth of the Iraq War, that we can know Zia, Nunu, Heather and Manal. Asquith's dedication to writing has given eloquent voice to women's experience in war.

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  • Posted November 22, 2009

    Women in War

    For those of us who know Iraq from newspapers and TV, this book is important. For those of us who are women, it is essential. Christina Asquith's, "Sisters in War," puts us on the ground in Iraq from the beginning of the war up to present time. It's told from the point of view of three seemingly disparate women; a U.S. soldier who is a cog in the democracy-building bureaucracy, an American-born Arab aid worker trying to establish womens' rights programs in Iraq and a young Iraqi woman waiting for her life to begin.

    On the eve of war, all of these women are full of hope, optimism and ambition. They want to participate in the creation of an Iraq where women don't just survive, but thrive. We come to feel we know these women. We recognize them as we recognize ourselves. They want the same things we want; freedom to pursue a career, freedom to fall in love and safety for themselves and their family. The thing they want most, perhaps, is to give women a voice. And to find their own voice.

    We follow these women into the crucible of war. We witness their disappointments as the Americans are unable to secure the country and get it up and running again, we witness their pain, fear and frustration as chaos and terror reign.

    Christina Asquith's book does what fine journalism should do, which is bring us into intimate contact with The Other. The Refugee, The Warrior, The Human Aide Worker become Zia, Heather and Manal. They could be our sisters, our best friends, our colleagues. And as harrowing as their tale is, the remarkable resilience of all three gives us cause for hope.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2011

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