Sisters in War: A Story of Love, Family, and Survival in the New Iraq

Sisters in War: A Story of Love, Family, and Survival in the New Iraq

by Christina Asquith

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781588367617
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/11/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,195,379
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Christina Asquith was born in New York City and was educated at Boston University and the London School of Economics. A journalist for more than a decade, she has written for The New York Times, The Economist, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Guardian, and she was a staff writer at The Philadelphia Inquirer. She lives with her husband and their daughter in Burlington, Vermont.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


when the sisters heard the roar of U.S. military planes overhead, they clambered up the wooden steps onto the roof of their uncle’s mud-brick farmhouse. “Maybe they can see us!” cried Nunu happily. She shouted to the sky, for once not caring who heard: “Go! Good luck! But don’t kill any innocent people.”

Zia laughed with her, glad to have something, at last, to celebrate. The Americans were here to free them from Saddam. She watched her little sister waving at the distant black specks, skipping over the mud and straw in her fancy shoes. A few days ago, Nunu had overheard on her shortwave radio that American troops were marching through Iraqi villages, going door-to-door, and ever since then she had been getting up an extra hour early in the morning just to do her hair and makeup. So far, no war heroes had shown up, but it was so good to see Nunu happy that Zia hadn’t even teased her for it. They could feel the electricity in the air: after years of oppression, the government was about to be overthrown, and Iraq would be free—a “freedom” they had only ever known through their mother’s stories of Iraq’s glorious past. After weeks and months of waiting, these military planes were their first, welcome sign of that immense promise.

As the sound of the planes died away and Nunu scanned the horizon for more, Zia’s own thoughts grew darker. In her mind she followed the bomber planes to Baghdad, 115 miles to the east, where her father, stubborn as ever, had insisted on waiting out the invasion to protect their house from looters. As a child she had heard bombs falling around their neighborhood during the Iran-Iraq war, and she remembered the terror, as she moved through adolescence, of the American bombing raids on Baghdad in 1991 and 1998. She couldn’t bear to imagine anything happening to Baba, or to her beloved city—though she tried to tell herself that some destruction was necessary and understandable. Her throat tightened as she remembered Baba’s admiration of the “incredible precision” of American bombs, and his insistence that the Americans weren’t interested in targeting civilians. That had been three weeks ago, though, and they’d had no news from him since. Though she knew it was forbidden to doubt her own father, she still whispered a silent prayer, under her breath, that he’d be safe.

Nunu skipped toward her across the roof. “Zia, let’s go tell Mamina! Now that the Americans are here, soon we’ll be able to go home!”

As they climbed down the ladder into their uncle’s home, Zia wished, again, that women’s lives would change with the Americans’ arrival. She was tired of being an outcast. As the eldest daughter, Zia had unconsciously stepped into the patriarchal role usually assumed by the eldest son, earning income in her job, driving the car, tutoring Nunu, and even handling financial matters with her uncles. She liked being in charge, even though she knew her outspokenness had earned her a reputation as “unmarriageable” around the neighborhood.

“The Americans are advancing toward Baghdad!” Nunu cheered when they found Mamina, folding her prayer mat in the bedroom the women shared downstairs. Their mother’s darkly lined eyes lit up, and she gave them a tight, perfume-scented hug. Even with her hair hidden under a veil, Mamina radiated the warmth and beauty of a woman twenty years younger, Zia thought. This time, they all felt sure, the Americans would get the job done.

Mamina sighed contentedly. “Like he parted the sea for Moses, we pray God makes a smooth path for the Americans. Then, my dears, you will know how it feels to be proud of your homeland—you’ll see the progressive, cultured Iraq your father and I loved so much when we were young. Iraq was once a paradise for women, and the Americans will help us restore that. I dream that you will be able to live as you wish from now on.”

Zia caught Nunu’s eye and they both collapsed into excited giggles like children, unable to believe this fantasy would soon be real. Clapping her hands, Nunu cried, “Mamina, when the American soldiers see us, maybe they will fall in love and want to marry us!”

“Shhhh!” Mamina scolded, though her eyes belied her joy. “Keep your voice down. Remember we are in Hit.”

indeed, living with Uncle Jalal, the women were all too aware that not every Iraqi was celebrating the end of Saddam’s twenty-five-year rule. Although their uncle’s family had agreed to shelter Zia, Nunu, and Mamina because Mamina’s sister, Sahra, was married to Jalal, the imminent invasion had awoken dormant religious tensions across the country. They, like most of the other townspeople of Hit, were conser- vative Sunni Muslims, while Sahra and the rest of Zia’s family were Shia. It was a divide that had arisen in the seventh century, over which group held true claim as descendants of the Prophet’s rightful successor. Saddam and his government were mostly Sunni, and during the quarter century he’d been in power Saddam had deepened the distrust between the two groups by overtly favoring Sunni villages, granting them more reliable electricity and public funding. Although in recent years most residents in the educated areas of Baghdad dismissed infighting between religious sects as backward, and intermarriages like Sahra and Jalal’s had become common, there was still strong religious feeling in conservative tribal centers. As the American invasion neared, politics had begun to increasingly break down along these religious lines, with provincial areas like Hit remaining deeply loyal to Saddam while the more urban Shia were suspected, often rightly, of supporting and even helping the USA with the imminent invasion.

these tensions were certainly making the evening meals increasingly awkward. That night, as Mamina, Zia, and Nunu sat cross-legged on the floor around the embroidered tablecloth, they tried not to betray too much of their excitement. Inevitably, though, as the family began to eat, roughly tearing off pieces of flat bread and using it to spoon the stuffed onions, rice, cucumbers, and kebabs, the discussion turned to the war. Everyone had heard the planes overhead that afternoon, and knew that the long weeks and months of suspense would soon be over, for better or worse.

Jalal’s mother, eyeing her guests, openly praised Saddam. “He is a strong man who will stand up to the infidel Americans.” She looked around the room bitterly, her fierce face swathed in a black abaya. The tribal tattoos on her wrists were visible as she waved her arms in defiance. Mamina glanced in alarm over at Zia, knowing how hard it was for her daughter to keep her opinions to herself when she was angry, but Zia just shot their hostess a hostile look and swallowed hard. Nunu, who never said anything in public anyway, kept her eyes downcast, refusing to risk anyone’s disapproval. Mamina hurriedly tried to move the conversation to safer ground. Saddam’s secret police could be anywhere, and no one had dared criticize the dictator for more than two decades. It wasn’t yet safe to start.

Luckily, Jalal’s sister, who was far less interested in politics, soon dominated the conversation. She wanted to gossip about the woman next door, whom she considered “barren” because she had only two children: “I have sixteen children, mostly sons,” she haughtily reminded her city cousins, and the dinner discussion soon settled into a polite appraisal of these young men’s virtues.

After dinner, Nunu and Zia retreated to the bedroom to listen to the news on Nunu’s little shortwave Sony radio. Although most channels were government-controlled and spewed pure propaganda, the girls had found an international station, Radio Monte Carlo, where they could get reliable outside information. They listened anxiously for news about their Baghdad neighborhood, praying nothing would happen to Baba and their neighbors, but there wasn’t much information available. “Do you think our relatives are listening to these same stations too, from London?” Nunu asked.

“Maybe,” Zia mused. The family had little contact with their family members who lived in exile. They suspected their phone calls were monitored by Saddam’s Ba’ath Party, so they didn’t dare speak openly with them on the rare occasion when they called them. Letters addressed to foreign countries were also opened and screened, and Iraqis had no access to the Internet or email. “I hope our uncles are not too worried. I wonder if they’ll want to come visit, now that Iraq is going to be safe again.”

As snatches of broadcasts interrupted the static, the sisters talked about how different life would be once Saddam was defeated: Zia would finally get her medical degree, and Nunu would “marry Redha al- Abdullah”—a famous Iraqi singer—and “have seventeen children!”

“And they’ll all be boys!” Zia added. They laughed. These impoverished, aggressively conservative villagers were looked down upon by the well-educated city girls, who had grown up among much more liberal attitudes, even under Saddam’s brutality. Baba generally let them wear pants and makeup, if they wanted to, but here the old women’s abayas covered their faces, hands, and feet. Barefoot young women and their dirt-smudged children carried urns of water alongside the roads. Few of the women in the village had gone to school beyond elementary, while Zia had graduated from university and Nunu would too, in a few years. These villagers’ lives were not governed by the modern strictures of Parliament, police, and the court of law, but instead by a small band of tribal elders and Islamic clerics whose families had ruled the region for generations.

Still, Hit and Baghdad did have one thing in common: the center of town had a monument to Saddam. Every town and city in Iraq was peppered with government-ordered murals and statues of the dictator. There was “Uncle Saddam,” the loving patriarch; “Muslim Saddam,” shown in religious attire to underscore his devotion to Islam; and, most frequently, the armed “Warrior Saddam,” perpetually victorious against the modern-day evils of America and Israel. Everyone knew these symbols, but it had been a long time since any of the government’s rhetoric held even an echo of truth; Saddam had stopped caring for or protecting his countrymen long ago. Nunu and Zia found the statues both ridiculous and terrifying—even the smallest act of vandalism to one of these images could mean a painful death.

Mamina came into the bedroom and found her girls gossiping about Saddam, Jalal’s family, and the backwardness of Hit. Nunu looked up at her mother. “Saddam has done nothing but steal from Iraqis for two decades, and yet they are still loyal to him over the Americans. How can they defend him?”

Mamina settled on the bed between them, curling her fingers absentmindedly through Nunu’s glossy hair. “Did you know Aunt Sahra and I grew up in a world very much like Hit? There were twelve of us children, and your grandparents were very poor. When we were young, Iraq had few roads, and no cars or airports. Most people in these rural areas traveled by donkey or walked, married their cousins to preserve family unity, and never ventured beyond their villages. The old ways are deeply ingrained, and there was never a lot of reason to change. You can’t call them backward just for carrying on the ancient traditions—after all, Iraq is famously known as the cradle of civilization. All great history and culture began here. The epic of Gilgamesh was first told by Mesopotamians more than five thousand years ago; the ancient tales of Kahlila and Dimna inspired Aesop’s fables, and, as you know, the story of the Arabian Nights is set in a Baghdad neighborhood right near our apartment. We have much to be proud of.”

“But Mamina,” Zia pointed out, “you left your village, and you’re not like Uncle Jalal’s sister. And you’re always telling us that women can be as good as men at some things. These people certainly don’t believe that.”

Mamina sighed. “One of the things I loved best about Iraq, in the years before you girls were born, was how we led the Arab world in culture, education, and women’s rights. Iraq had the best of both worlds—the ancient heritage and modern, secular policies. When I was in elementary school, General Kassim overthrew King Faisal the Second. He was just a puppet for the British government, which had been running Iraq for almost forty years. We adored General Kassim. For him, Iraq’s women and children were just as important as the men. When an interviewer asked him why he wasn’t married, he said, ‘Iraq’s old women are my mothers, the young women are my sisters, and the baby girls are my daughters.’?” Mamina laughed. “That made us all want to marry him! Under his rule, the public schools gave out milk, yogurt, and vitamins, the government tested children’s health annually, and medicine was free. In the winters our headmaster gave the poorer students pieces of thick material and dinars to take to the tailor for jackets.”

“That’s what Saddam should be doing if he wants to have those statues of him as our ‘uncle,’?” Nunu interjected. “Instead we have nothing to be proud of—no nice shampoos, no fancy cheeses, no fruits, bread, or milk half the time, and the markets have nothing to sell.”

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Sisters in War: A Story of Women, Life, and Death in Iraq 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
nickelmoonpoet on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Excellent illustration of the marginalization of women both in Iraq and the United States. Asquith shows that women can come together to fight for what is right despite cultural differences through the stories of two Iraqui sisters and an American female soldier. She explores how war further marginalizes a population already marginalized by Islamic culture. She also illustrates that American military culture marginalizes women's issues just as badly as the Iraqui culture, if not more so. Excellent read for anyone interested in women's rights and women's standing in the world.
eo206 on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Sisters in War gives a unique perspective of the Iraq war. Much about what has been written about the Iraq war comes from the military perspective, this book tells a different story, the story of women and how they have been impacted and changed by the war. The story is told through several different lens; Zia and Nunu are sisters who live in Bagdad. Zia is fluent in English and quickly rises in a job working in the Green Zone with Americans. Her story talks tells about how she has to navigate between her Iraq family and her sister Nunu and her job working with the Americans. Heather is an American solider who left a prominent D.C. job to join the US military and is working on reconstruction. While her intentions are good she stumbles to bring about lasting change for women in Iraq while wearing the US uniform and being kept in the safety net of the US Green Zone. Manal is a community builder who must bridge the dual worlds of being Muslim and an outsider. The book interweaves their personal tales with a touch of history and a cultural context that keeps the book interesting. I struggled a bit with how all of the different tales are woven together into what should have been a seamless storyline. If you are interested in global women¿s studies this is a good book.
DevourerOfBooks on LibraryThing 25 days ago
One thing I don¿t ever remember hearing the mainstream media talking about when the decision was made to invade Iraq in 2003 is what it would mean for the women and children of that country. In fact, to this day I have still not seen much explored about the lives of women in Iraq and whether they have improved or not since the war began ¿ until I picked up Christina Asquith¿s ¿Sisters in War.¿Asquith follows the stories of 4 different women from different backgrounds in Baghdad: Shia sisters Zia and Nunu; Heather, the white US Army reservist; and Manal, a devoutly Muslim feminist Arab-American aid worker. We begin following the sisters¿ story before the invasion happens, and their hope for their future after Saddam is absolutely heart breaking.I really don¿t want to say too much about what these women experience. Obviously it is no secret what has been happening with the Iraq War (¿Sisters in War¿ spans from 2003 to 2006), but it is something completely different to experience it through the eyes of these four women.I was so completely invested in these women¿s lives, I didn¿t want to stop reading until I found out what happened to them! Asquith completely made all of them real to me. Of course they are real, but sometimes nonfiction writers don¿t bring their subjects to life in the same way that authors of fiction do ¿ not the case with ¿Sisters in War.¿ I also appreciated that Asquith did not include herself in the story she was telling. That seems to be quite the fad in narrative nonfiction right now and it often works quite well, but I think this story packed a much greater emotional punch for not including her, it read somewhat like a documentary, I felt as if I was simply a fly on the wall with all of these women.Not always emotionally easy read, but endlessly compelling storytelling, great writing, and a fascinating subject make me highly recommend this book.
jennmaine on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Reporter Christina Asquith traces the history and impact of the ongoing Iraq War through the eyes of several women in this compelling work. We meet Zia and Nunu, young Iraqi women from a liberal Baghdad family as they seek work with American forces and contractors within the Green Zone and struggle to complete university studies amidst the chaos. Heather Coyne is an idealistic American soldier with a background in both government work and Arabic language skills. Palestinian ¿ American Manal Omar is a skilled NGO organizer, arriving in Iraq to open an office for Women to Women International. Lives intersect as sectarian violence and Western interference escalate. Zia begins a friendship (later a romance and marriage) with a divorced American contractor as her career prospects brighten due to her English skills and education. Nunu struggles with anxiety as personal safety in the city deteriorates, particularly for women. Heather and Manal meet due to common objectives and face bureaucratic roadblocks and the efforts by American officials to propagandize the opening of their aid center while marginalizing entire groups within the unstable political process. This work is a testimony to the harm that a combination of cultural misunderstanding and poor advance planning can have when a military force is assigned the task of nation building as it engages in combat operations. Readers with no exposure to first- hand accounts of this war should find this an effective starting point. Highly recommended.
Birdyrabbit on LibraryThing 25 days ago
A well-told story, hard to put down even though painful to read. Asquith does an excellent job of putting a very real face on the stories in the news. Some of the best and the worst of humanity are made closer and more immediate. Deeply disturbing, full of hopelessness and hope at the same time, not offereing any easy answers, but urging us to ask the questions.
abdulrazzak on LibraryThing 25 days ago
`Christina Asquith¿s description of the wild incompetence ¿ and dedication ¿ of early efforts in Iraq reads like a great novel but with the added weight of history¿. This quote from Sebastian Junger (author of the Perfect Storm) can be found in the blurb at the back of Asquith¿s new book. Mr Junger would have done the readers of this book a great service had he placed the full stop after the word novel and scrapped the remainder of the sentence. The book tells the story of three women: Zia, an Iraqi English graduate who lands a lucrative job in the Green Zone, Heather, an American soldier who is given vast sums of money to set up Women¿s Centres across Baghdad and Manal, a Palestinian-American who reluctantly helps Heather in her endeavour despite knowing in her heart that the setting up of Women¿s Centres by the Americans is not the ideal way to help Iraqi women and that in fact it is nothing short of a publicity stunt to justify the occupation.Much of the book, however, focuses on the story of Zia and her romance with an American contractor called Keith, who came to Iraq in order to make the kind of money he had no chance of earning back in the States. Asquith does not question for one moment whether Zia was right to take the job she did in the Green zone and effectively betraying her country by collaborating with its invaders.Romance between occupiers and occupied is nothing new. It has now largely been forgotten that when the Germans invaded France, some French women went crazy for the tall, handsome, blond invaders. Particularly as the German officers did not set about raping the population as had been expected but instead tried to win `hearts and minds¿ by handing out bread and tarts. All this has been documented by the author Patrick Buisson in his book 1940-1945: Annees erotiques (erotic years) which sadly has yet to be translated to English. Keith, whom Asquith constantly contrasts favourably with Iraqi men, refuses to leave Iraq even though Zia wants him to marry her and take her to the USA. He refuses because the war has proved immensely lucrative to him. Asquith describes how Iraqis like Zia became pariahs as far as the Americans were concerned once the resistance started to take shape and the privileged Green Zone came under attack. The Iraqis were given badges with the lowest level of security clearance which meant that effectively they were barred from entering many of the compounds of the Green Zone. A kind of apartheid began to take hold inside the Imperial enclave and Iraqis could not share the main dining halls with their masters despite of the fact their lives were much more in danger than the Americans. Zia eventually is granted a visa to the States and ends up marrying Keith. She brings over her mother and sister to live with her and we are meant to celebrate all this in the implausibly happy ending that Asquith writes. The reality is that Zia and her family were tricked by all the US propaganda about freedom, democracy and human rights and in the process they have lost their country. After WWII ended, the French executed many of the collaborators. Some think that that is the fate the Iraqi collaborators deserve. I do not subscribe to that idea. As Asquith shows in the book, Zia and her family were deeply disillusioned, for good reason, with Saddam Hussain and his government. Zia¿s zeal for the American invasion is a direct result of Saddam¿s betrayal of his people. This is why I think the analogy between France and Iraq has its limits. France did not have the complicating factor of a ruthless dictator oppressing his own people. Nevertheless, it has to be remembered that many Iraqis, despite hating Saddam to the utmost degree, refused to collaborate with the invaders. Their story is yet to be told and celebrated properly. Not all French women ended up romancing the Nazis. Had they all done so, France might be a Western province of Germany today and the vast bulk of Europeans would be subjects of the Thi
jlelliott on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Advancement of women¿s rights was put forward by many as a justification for American intervention in Iraq. Ardent supporters of the war still find validation in the idea that Iraqi women profited from the occupation. But is this assertion justified? ¿Sisters in War¿, written by a journalist who spent two years covering the Iraq War from Baghdad, is, in part, an answer to this question. War reporter Christina Asquith chronicles the attempts made to bolster women¿s rights during the American occupation by telling the stories of several women who were involved in the process. One of the strengths of the book lies in the diversity of her protagonists, which range from military personal that are devoted believers in the role of the war in freeing Iraqi women to civilian aid-workers who staunchly believe that war can only have a negative impact. While the experiences of these international players are extremely instructive, the heart of the book lies with the Iraqi sisters that must daily deal with the reality in the capital. The two sisters could hardly be more different; one jumps at the opportunity created by the occupation of Baghdad and becomes a successful employee of the Americans, while the other grows more and more isolated as escalating violence make it impossible for her to so much as leave her home. Unhappily, all these disparate stories and perspectives agree on one point; the war did not improve the lives of Iraqi women. Asquith provides plenty of evidence outlining the haphazard way in which women¿s rights were addressed by the military, a frustrating litany of prodigious resources being squandered due to a lack of training, planning, and support from the upper echelons. However, she makes it is clear that the real source of the disaster was the ever increasing violence that occurred after the quick overthrow of the government. While I paid attention to the new reports of the growing violence in Baghdad as it occurred, it was still shocking to read a cohesive account of the terrorist attacks that wracked the nation, often specifically targeting women and institutions that supported the rights of women. In a position of such vast civil unrest, women were more shackled than every before, with now both their lives and their liberty at the mercy of the most extreme factions.As Asquith makes very clear, many, many people, both military and civilian, tried desperately to improve the lives of women in Iraq during the American occupation. The conclusion I drew from her reporting was that war is simply not an appropriate means to effect positive social change in the lives of women, a fact that cannot be eliminated by good intentions. Meaning well and doing well are not equivalent.
nbmars on LibraryThing 25 days ago
This excellent and informative book offers a unique look at the war in Iraq from the often-neglected perspective of its effects on Iraqi women. It will inspire and infuriate you, but most of all, it will teach you things you will not read in treatments of the war by men.Reporter Christina Asquith, who has written about women¿s rights in Afghanistan, Oman, and Jordan, spent five years getting to know the women whose lives she chronicles in this book, which begins with the American invasion of Iraq. Zia and Nunu, young girls aged 21 and 19 at the time of the invasion, lived with their liberal parents in Baghdad. Manal Omar was an observant Muslim American woman in her late twenties who came to Iraq after the invasion to help establish women¿s rights. Heather Coyne, an examiner in the White House¿s Office of Management and Budget with a degree in Arabic from the Defense Language Institute, joined the army to be a part of the Iraqi liberation.The author recounts in detail the mishandling of the invasion by the Americans: appointments were based on political loyalty to the Bush Administration rather than competence, experience, or facility with Arabic; emphasis was placed on establishing an immediate democracy without any consideration to groundwork or more pressing needs (Americans seemed oblivious to the fact that Iraqis were more concerned with safety, schools, medical care, and which form of Islam would be hegemonic rather than with forming ¿democratic¿ organizations); troop levels were too low to ensure order among the simmering tribal and religious rivalries that had been held in check by Saddam; and many hired contractors were low-lives who needed to get out of the U.S.: they often built shoddy facilities knowing there was no rule of law to stop them, and they threw their weight around in an offensive manner with respect to the locals in general and woman in particular.The repercussions of the war on women have been horrific. Much of it can be attributed to the breakdown of authority and subsequent sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni sects and the Islamic fundamentalists within those sects. Women had been used to a measure of freedom under Saddam. Now, those who went out without head scarves, who wore blue jeans, who studied at the university, or worst of all, who got jobs with the Americans, were considered fair game for rapes, kidnappings, beheadings, and vengeance on the rest of their families. Women became afraid to leave their homes. Programs for women emphasized teaching them democracy and getting them jobs. But it was more important to the women that their husbands have jobs first. Lynne Cheney, wife of the Vice-President, headed up an organization to help women in Iraq, but it would not even meet with any women who were considered left wing or critical of the United States. This practice omitted a great many women who were talented organizers and also sensitive to the needs of Iraqis.A few women, like Manal and Heather, and some others who were reported on by Asquith but who were killed, lobbied extensively for just a small portion of financial support and security for centers for women, especially centers that could be safe havens from violence. The male-dominated American establishment for the most part left the women to sink or swim. In the case of the very few gains, they claimed credit for them even though they had left the women on their own. Asquith laments that much of the Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence that targets women goes unreported in the American media. This not only has allowed the practice to continue without an international outcry, but also allowed the Bush Administration officials to interpret the situation for women in a very positive light, which just wasn¿t justified.By the book¿s end in 2009, Zia (who once only narrowly escaped being beheaded in Iraq) has managed to survive largely intact by emigrating to the U.S.; Nunu almost had a nervous breakdown and considered suicide; Man
PENewcomb More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Non-FictionReader More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the Iraqui family and the way life was for them. On the political side of the story---ENOUGHT of the President George Bush and his Administration BASHING!!!
mandersj More than 1 year ago
American journalist Christina Asquith was sent to Baghdad on assignment in 2003, where she spent the next two years on the front lines of the war. By the fall of 2004, all journalists living in Baghdad were under death threat, and Asquith was forced into hiding in a Baghdad house with two of her Iraqi girlfriends. Living with an Iraqi family gave her a first-hand look at how Iraqis were affected by the war, especially women. Women went from holding respectable positions in society, to not even being able to leave their homes unaccompanied by a male relative. From this experience, Asquith got the idea to write "Sisters in War." Asquith follows the lives of four women affected by the American attack/invasion of Baghdad. Two Iraqi sisters, Zia and Nunu; one U.S. soldier, Heather; and a U.S. aid worker, Manal, who is an American Muslim. Heather worked inside the area of Baghdad where most American soldiers work from, called the Green Zone. American soldiers live and work there, and it is considered safe. Based out of one of Saddam's former palaces, the Green Zone is also where Iraqis working alongside Americans can go freely to and from work on a daily basis. However, once outside the Green Zone's gates, Baghdad is a free-for-all where violence is rarely brought to justice, and women are treated like lower-class citizens since the Americans took Saddam from power. Manal and Heather meet up through the work that Heather is wanting to do installing womens' centers in Baghdad. Heather has big ideas and Manal has the means to carry out the ideas, and together they make a good team. However, Heather's idea of building nine centers throughout Baghdad within a few weeks is simply impossible. When they open the first, and only, center several months later, Heather has finally come to terms with how slowly the American bureaucracy works, and how little the extremists in Iraq want women to succeed. At first Zia and Nunu and their families saw the Americans coming to Baghdad as something wonderful that would free them and deliver to them the opportunities they've always longed for. However, several years after the war began, both Zia and Nunu fear for their lives daily, and Zia has been fired from her job within the Green Zone because the Americans have stopped trusting Iraqis. Their neighborhood still does not have stable electricity or clean water. They are no longer safe attending university or even leaving their home without having to be veiled to cover most of their body and head. Interestingly enough, how most Iraqis view America's involvement in their country is still optimistic and hopeful, no matter how weary they are about how things appear to be worse than when Saddam was in power. They hope that once the militants and extremists are taken care of, their country can be handed back over to them as a democracy. There is even a law, when followed, that calls for 25% of their governing council be female. Asquith has hit the nail on the head with following these four women and getting their aspects on this entire situation. Their lives are so different from anything we can imagine in America, and so interesting in how they have to live versus how they want to live. Definitely a different perspective, a sympathetic one that thinks perhaps there will be some good to come out of the war, yet still fearing there won't be.
ShannonColleary More than 1 year ago
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.