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Baghdad Diaries: A Woman's Chronicle Of War And Exile

Baghdad Diaries: A Woman's Chronicle Of War And Exile

by Nuha al-Radi

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In this often moving, sometimes wry account of life in Baghdad during the first war on Iraq and in exile in the years following, Iraqi-born, British-educated artist Nuha al-Radi shows us the effects of war on ordinary people. She recounts the day-to-day realities of living in a city under siege, where food has to be consumed or thrown out because there is no way to


In this often moving, sometimes wry account of life in Baghdad during the first war on Iraq and in exile in the years following, Iraqi-born, British-educated artist Nuha al-Radi shows us the effects of war on ordinary people. She recounts the day-to-day realities of living in a city under siege, where food has to be consumed or thrown out because there is no way to preserve it, where eventually people cannot sleep until the nightly bombing commences, where packs of stray dogs roam the streets (and provide her own dog Salvi with a harem) and rats invade homes. Through it all, al-Radi works at her art and gathers with neighbors and family for meals and other occasions, happy and sad.

In the wake of the war, al-Radi lives in semi-exile, shuttling between Beirut and Amman, travelling to New York, London, Mexico and Yemen. As she suffers the indignities of being an Iraqi in exile, al-Radi immerses us in a way of life constricted by the stress and effects of war and embargoes, giving texture to a reality we have only been able to imagine before now. But what emanates most vibrantly from these diaries is the spirit of endurance and the celebration of the smallest of life’s joys.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Ms. Radi is a painter and sculptor not a writer, but she has an artist's eye for the telling detail: the birds flying upside down after an air raid, people gathering mementos from a rocket that has fallen into the garden of the Rashid Hotel, bicycles becoming the transport mode of choice as gasoline supplies dry up. — Michiku Kakutani
The Washington Post
Al-Radi looks at Iraq like a woman who insists on viewing a canvas only through a magnifying glass, intimately describing its texture while failing to see the wider scene. But however narrow its focus, Baghdad Diaries offers an unfiltered perspective on a widely misunderstood world. — Frank Smyth
Publishers Weekly
A London-educated Iraqi woman, al-Radi, recounts 10 years in her life, covering the Persian Gulf War in 1991, then the Western embargo on Iraq and finally the years she entitles "exile," which she spent primarily in Lebanon, occasionally visiting the United States. Al-Radi, an artist by training, writes powerful but not ostentatious prose, with abrupt, fragmented and simple sentences as she interweaves the violent, chaotic effects of war with everyday incidents. One may feel the urge to skim the detailing of run-of-the-mill events regarding, say, al-Radi's dog and his adventures. And the artistry and authenticity of al-Radi's voice will be marred for some by her ardent anti-Israel and anti-American sentiments. The author rightly addresses the devastation of war, the inevitable violence wrought on innocent civilians. But she does not address the context in which the Gulf War and the embargo took place. Mention of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and ruthlessness toward his own people is reduced to a bare minimum. Al-Radi singles out Israel for criticism of its policies regarding Lebanon and the Palestinians, at one point comparing Israeli policies to Nazi tactics. There is no question that war is brutal, and al-Radi touchingly portrays the Iraqi plight, but in her eagerness to cast blame, she loses sight of the bigger picture. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Nuha Al-Radi, a potter, painter and eco-sculptor from a prominent and sophisticated Iraqi family, began her diary in 1991 at the beginning of the Gulf War, writing from her house in Baghdad. She was not privy to government plans (who was?) and her diary reflects the concerns of an ordinary citizen whose country is under attack. She describes the loss of electricity and the subsequent neighborhood feasts, as the people of Baghdad cleaned out their freezers and refrigerators and cooked the soon-to-be spoiled food. Friends and family leave for the safety of the country, hauling their freezers on trucks and barbequing on the way. Water and phone service are unavailable. The lush orchard surrounding her house becomes the site of the "loo" as water is too scarce to use for flushing. On the eighth day of bombardment she writes, "Depression has hit me with the realization that the whole world hates us." With the end of war comes the chaos of defeat. Wild dogs roam the streets and private yards. Shattered windows must be replaced but there are no available materials. The dirt and dust from the bombardment fills the streets and houses and the rain is black. The police force is decimated; thievery and car jacking become rampant. There is no army and the author comments, "We are told to rebel by the West, with what and how?" The subsequent embargo makes life difficult, and in some cases impossible. Medical care is non-existent; a visit to the hospital is useless, as there are neither supplies nor equipment. Despite the grim drain on the amenities of everyday life Nuha Al-Radi's sense of humor cannot be subdued. She gives up painting and begins to sculpt from cast-off automotive parts and stones. Her"Embargo Art" becomes well known. A U.S. representative promises to get her a U.S. tank to put in front of a famous Baghdad hotel; her intention is to paint it and invite people to write comments on it. She will call it "An Anti-Tank Missal," but the representative lets her down. In 1995 the artist left Iraq to show her art in Lebanon and has been an exile since. She says that Beirut is a gathering place for exiles as the Lebanese are famous for their grumbling and complaining and free speech is still allowed. On September 15, 2001 her entry reads "They know the names of the hijackers now and they are all Arabs; God help us." A March 2003 postscript for the Vintage edition records this painful entry: "In the name of peace and humanity, thousands have to be killed. In the name of liberation, in the name of democracy, there will be a military occupation. Would someone please tell me where the democracy lies in 'Either you are with us or against us'?" KLIATT Codes: SA;Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1998, Random House, Vintage, 217p.,
— Penelope Power
From the Publisher
“I searched for recent books about Iraq that described it as a real country. I found only one, the excellent Baghdad Diaries.” —Edward Said

“I hope many people will read this book and note the futility of war and perhaps do something about it; all my life I have cherished this hope in vain, but we must not stop.” —Mary Wesley, author of Harnessing Peacocks and A Sensible Life

“Something of what sanctions mean for ordinary Iraqis. . .records the day-to-day struggle for survival.” —Times Literary Supplement

“Insouciant, charming and witty, with much black humour. Al-Radi writes poignantly.” —The Independent (London)

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Random House
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Meet the Author

Born in Baghdad in 1941, Nuha al-Radi trained at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London in the early 1960s and later taught at the American University of Beirut. A painter, ceramist, and sculptor, her works have been shown throughout the Arab world and in Berlin, London, and Washington.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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