Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Sand Cafe: A Novel

The Sand Cafe: A Novel

3.7 4
by Neil MacFarquhar

See All Formats & Editions

Dhahran Palace Hotel, Saudi Arabia, 1991. The US forces are massing on the border with Iraq, preparing to throw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Men and material are arriving daily, helicopters and armor are training in the desert sand. There are rumors of Scud missiles, talk of the possibility of chemical attack, but in fact, nothing is really happening


Dhahran Palace Hotel, Saudi Arabia, 1991. The US forces are massing on the border with Iraq, preparing to throw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Men and material are arriving daily, helicopters and armor are training in the desert sand. There are rumors of Scud missiles, talk of the possibility of chemical attack, but in fact, nothing is really happening. With no story to report, the press is getting restive. The Sand Café is a satire of modern war reporting that mercilessly exposes the life of the foreign correspondent: endless scurrying trips in pursuit of a really big story, gathering frustration, brewing jealousy directed towards other reporters, especially those from better financed TV networks, and the stale smell of damp rot that comes from a combination of leaking air-conditioning and wretched carpeting in the hotel where the entire bedraggled press corps is housed. Boredom massages idle thoughts into wild excesses, even in a country that officially bans the sale of alcohol. Neil MacFarquhar, a veteran of the Middle East foreign press corps, has written a woundingly witty black comedy of those who bring us news from the front lines, exposing their vanities, rivalries and petty distractions. Love, lust for fame and the magnificent gilded hypocrisy of the regime in Saudi make this novel as revealing as it is compelling.

Editorial Reviews

Jay Mathews
Elements of suspense pull us through this knowing satire of the profession. Will Angus's war, as brief as it is, go well? Will he succumb to his growing sense that he needs Thea longer than the standard fortnight? Will the U.S. military handlers stop treating the reporters like buck privates? Will the Saudis' orgies and hypocrisies be exposed?
— The Washington Post
Christopher Dickey
In fact "the story" — whatever that may be — is the only real object of passion in the lives of any of these characters. Angus, his lover and her lover use each other for distraction and comfort, knowing they'll move on. There will be, as they keep telling themselves, other wars. And the waiting for the story, not the waiting for each other, is what really gives "The Sand Café its dramatic tension and comic relief.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The frustrations and follies of contemporary war reporting are skewered in this jaundiced, juicy dispatch, datelined Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War. Sent to cover the story of a lifetime, wire service reporter Angus Dalziel finds himself with a view mainly of his hotel room. Harassed by Saudi officialdom, stifled and spoon-fed by U.S. Army press minders, Angus struggles to unearth real stories about military corruption, the repressive Saudi society America is defending and front-line reverses once the longed-for fighting begins. Watching his comrades veer between frenzy and torpor in their media bubble, Angus ponders the rot at the heart of journalism-especially the shallowness and vanity of television correspondents, one of whom uses up his tent mates' precious drinking water to shampoo his hair. First-time novelist and New York Times Cairo bureau chief MacFarquhar has this milieu down cold, though some of his tent poles are romantic clich s. A triangle between Angus, a cable-news babe and an egotistical producer yields much brooding over the transience of reporters' love lives, and the dichotomy between serious print journalists and TV airheads is a little facile. But media insiders and casual readers alike will relish his stock of witty observations and nasty anecdotes, while gleaning timely insights into the corruption of the news business. Michael Moore this isn't, but look for the book to serve as a kind of "physician, heal thyself" for the current wartime media, with corresponding talk show play. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Set in Saudi Arabia during the buildup to the first Gulf War, this debut from veteran foreign correspondent MacFarquhar is a scathing satire of the news business. Wire-service correspondent Angus Dalziel is holed up in the semi-squalid Dhahran Palace Hotel with the rest of the foreign press corps, chasing what little real news there is and trying not to run afoul of the uptight Saudi authorities. Here, Angus meets TV journalist Thea Makdisi and begins a "hotel affair" that he hopes will turn into much more. To Angus's chagrin, Thea falls for high-powered TV producer Aaron Black, who can advance her career further than can a lowly print reporter. But when the war begins and the Scuds start flying, all bets are off. MacFarquhar directs his poison pen at the ambitions, pretensions, and petty rivalries of those in the news business as only an insider can. Beyond this, his observations regarding the nature of Saudi society and the Saudi regime make much of what has happened since seem almost inevitable. Recommended for all public libraries.-Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
MacFarquhar transitions from newsprint to novels with a satiric debut depicting reporters during the first Gulf War. New York Times Cairo bureau chief MacFarquhar no doubt knows his stuff, but a tin ear for dialogue and reliance on a tired love triangle make for a read that's at times as dry as its desert setting. As a foreign correspondent for the World Press wire service, Angus Dalziel finds himself digging for news in Saudi Arabia at the start of Desert Storm. Between his typically tight-lipped military sources and his controversy-shy Saudi hosts, however, solid bylines are a tough thing to come by. It's good, then, that the lovely Thea Makdisi is around to distract him. An up-and-coming Cable Broadcast Network correspondent (who bears more than a passing resemblance to CNN's Christiane Amanpour), Thea has most of the male press corps all hot and bothered, including Angus and the infamously roguish television producer Aaron Black. Love, betrayal and hurt feelings ensue as Ms. Makdisi hops between beds, eventually tossing over moon-eyed Angus for Black. MacFarquhar gets in some good digs-most at the expense of his TV news counterparts-but he never gets truly, deliciously vicious. The fact that his protagonist is a world-class drip doesn't much help matters, nor does the stilted dialogue, with characters spouting out background and expository info as if they were reading from a social-studies textbook. MacFarquhar does quite well when describing the daily tribulations of a war reporter, but unfortunately, he's too often more interested in his characters' limp love lives. His story gets going toward the end as Angus sneaks out to the front for a dramatic scoop, but this bit, while adelight, can't make up for the pages that precede it. A case of too little, too late.

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Neil MacFarquhar's exposure to the Middle East started early, even before he entered first grade in Marsa Brega, Libya and continued through Stanford University, where his senior thesis focused on the Arab oil embargo as an economic weapon. He has worked as a correspondent in the Arab world for more than twelve years, including the last five as the Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times. Fluent in Arabic and French, his next assignment for the Times will be Paris.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Sand Cafe 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great novel - engrossing, topical, stylish and very funny. With this it also manages to reveal a great deal about how the press shapes and limits our understanding of war and of the Middle East/Islam. The educational side - usually coveyed in hilarious anecdotes - all mesh, and I came away exhilerated. It is also incredibly relevant to the current Iraq war and illuminates the failure of communication and understanding between the US and the Arab world. This important novel should be very, very widely read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to become a journalist or date one. Imagine M.A.S.H. meets Sex in the City with a little Jon Stewart thrown into the mix. A crowd of mostly youthful, virulent, edgy thirty-somethings with fire in their bellies as well as their loins are stuck for seven months in a 190-room Saudi hotel desperately looking for the next big scoop and a little warmth, with very limited supplies of either available. They lie, they cheat, they broadcast the most intimate details of their sex lives with colleagues, they literally hit each other, and somehow they still manage to broadcast the news. The relatively small number of excellent journalists heroically stand up to a bewildering gauntlet of obstacles from cut throat colleagues to a dominating Pentagon, which tries to assert complete control over what the American public is allowed to learn about the Gulf War. The writing in The Sand Café is terrific, insightful and hilariously funny. I read every chance I got. There¿s a lot to learn from this tour guide about how the media actually covers a war or fails miserably in the attempt through laziness and incompetence. Aside from getting an appalling sense of how the news is made, I also learned much about the military, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Arab attitudes towards one another and the West, about fanatics and why they are tolerated, about Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, not to mention a bit of history. All in all it¿s a great orientation to an ever-important region. I loved reading it, and so will you.
ChasF More than 1 year ago
This is a very well written book with great insight about Saudi Arabia and the international press corps in the run-up to the Gulf War of 1991 [and probably any war thereafter]
Overby More than 1 year ago
This is a boring story of boring people doing boring things. After about 15 pages I wanted to put the book down, but kept at it thinking it would get better, but it never did. Nothing ever happens, it's just the day to day tedium of a reporter waiting for something to happen. I must have read the whole thing out of some perverted sense of patriotism since it's about the 1st Gulf War, but I sure wish I'd put it down at the 15 page stage.