The Washington Post
The Sand Cafeby Neil MacFarquhar
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/i>/i>
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.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
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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.
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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.
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.
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]
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.