“At night he treads the streets of Baghdad”. This is a book of the pain of loss in many ways. It is also about memories that run concurrently with current events. It is about the parts of oneself that contribute to life, the memories, good and bad, which can and ought to be built up in a picture of self. This is a book of an international relationship with many happy memories and aspects, yet also with longing for places and people far away. It is a novel only possible in the age of the internet as characters find out what is going on, as well as communicate with each other. This is a modern book in some ways, with international concerns, but also a book of old emotional truths.
Emma works in the International zone in Baghdad as an administrator alongside American armed forces personnel. While she has her friend Anna, she like the other expats live life to a routine supposed to maintain their safety. Emma’s job is especially emotionally demanding as she interviews those who feel themselves in danger and are seeking urgent sanctuary in the U.S. She meets Adam, and we are told of their romance built on a desire to arrange the exit of certain individuals. Not that we are told in a linear narrative; we learn of Adam and Emma’s marriage and new life in Colorado as she describes her concern at the Army Unit’s imminent deployment back to Iraq. Being British, she feels lonely and without purpose when Adam departs, and she finds friendship with refugees from several countries. She will need all her resources to cope with events and emotions when trying circumstances come, and she must discover how to put the pieces together for herself.
This is a novel which achieve memory and current events and emotions simultaneously, with cleverly dropped hints about what happened and what might emerge. Emma is a real person telling her story and the stories of those around her powerfully and honestly. The writing flows beautifully, and I was drawn into two worlds; of Colorado and the reality of military families, as the constant draw of Iraq dominates despite fear and danger. This is a novel of both people and place, as real characters are seen in the two settings of America and Iraq. It shows how old griefs and regrets can shape our present and future, even if they are based many thousands of miles away. Real danger is presented in a far from glamorous way, when incoming bombs cause a familiar yet terrifying reaction. It is a novel of powerful imagination on several levels, as the writer imagines a whole world in many places, as well as Emma imagining possible events on the basis of her experience. Emma, Anna, Kate and other women become real as several men struggle, fathers, husbands and lovers emerge as less able to survive. I found this an incredibly powerful and timely novel, with much to admire in its portrayal of people, place and memory.
In other news, one Harvest Supper successfully negotiated with only minor sound problems; archive film of farming was more exciting than it sounds, honestly! Harvest festival services also successful, with a really fascinating talk from Jules about a school in Burkina Faso that he has set up. He pointed out that he insists on girls coming to school, as he believes that if you educate a woman you educate a family. He got some donations! Meanwhile, Bookworms today is discussing “Nine Tailors” by Dorothy L. Sayers. Bell ringing for beginners?