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The Fall of Baghdadby Jon Lee Anderson
Synopses & Reviews
For every great historical event, seemingly, at least one reporter writers an eyewitness account of such power and literary weight that it becomes joined with its subject in our minds — George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and the Spanish Civil War; John Hersey's Hiroshima and the dropping of the first atomic bomb; Philip Gourvitch's We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories of Rwanda and the Rwandan genocide. Whatever else is written about the Iraqi people and the fall of Saddam, Jon Lee Anderson's The Fall of Baghdad is worthy of mention in this company.
No subject has become more hotly politicized than the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime, and so a thick fog of propaganda, both from boosters of the war and its opponents, has obscured the reality of what the Iraqi people have endured and are enduring, under Saddam Hussein and now. For that reason alone, The Fall of Baghdad is a great and necessary book. Jon Lee Anderson has drawn on all of his reserves of stamina and personal bravery to create an astonishing portrait of humanity in extremis, a work of great wisdom, human empathy, and moral clarity. He follows a remarkable and diverse group of Iraqis over the course of this extraordinary time: from the all-pervasive fear that comes from living under Saddam's brutal, Orwellian rule to the surreal atmosphere of Baghdad before the invasion; to the invasion's commencement and the regime's death spiral down into its terrible endgame; to America's disastrously ill-conceived seizure of power and its fruits.
In channeling a tragedy of epic dimensions through the stories of real people caught up in the whirlwind of history, Jon Lee Anderson has written abook of timeless significance.
"New Yorker writer Anderson's eyewitness account of the invasion of Baghdad is a thoughtful document of war, written with stunning precision. Anderson arrived in Baghdad during the eerie calm before air strikes began in March 2003. While questioning ordinary Iraqis about their country's future, he also traveled to Iran, where he interviewed war-weary Shiite Iraqi refugees. Back in Iraq, Anderson sought out members of Saddam's Baath Party and probed the ambiguous nature of their relationship with their dictator: Ala Bashir, a plastic surgeon and artist who was close to Saddam, provides Anderson with a character study rich in contradiction. Equally compelling is a poet named Farouk, whose accounts of cocktail parties under Saddam have, in Anderson's recounting, a tension and irony reminiscent of Cold War Hitchcock thrillers. Anderson also makes his openly anti-Saddam driver, Sabeh, a key character and a link to Iraqi quotidian culture. In a voice refreshingly free of machismo, Anderson proffers an inside view of war reporters' scramble to cover events and of life at the Rasheed and Palestine hotels, where most journalists stayed. In this original narrative (not a collection of his New Yorker pieces), Anderson's unobtrusive voice mediates the voices of others faithfully and with humanizing integrity, resisting any impulse to convert what he observes into political argument. Instead, he collects grimly cinematic snapshots of Iraqi casualties that will haunt readers even after the invasion has receded into history. Agent, The Wylie Agency. (On sale Sept. 23) Forecast: Anderson's visibility via the New Yorker will mean major reviews and healthy sales." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"There are the events around the war — water shortages, last-minute evacuations, Sahaf the Information Minister defiantly pronouncing the slaughter of U.S. soldiers even as they roll into Baghdad — which are startling. But this book's chief virtue is Anderson's juxtaposition of Iraqis' attempts to maintain normal life on the eve of war against the bizarre cast of Westerners whose congregation to see that war creates a kind of morbid circus. Which is more the spectacle: Iraqis at the barber as air-raid sirens wail or visitors risking their lives for their various causes? Miss Germany arrives to fulfill her pageant promise to discuss peace with Saddam. Human Shields drive from London in a red double-decker led by a man who says the CIA carried out the 9/11 attacks and that in Palestine politics are black and white. Anderson's focus on the lives of those he meets spares us from one more polemic and gives us something more interesting: a world on its head. The Iraqis are eager to help, subtly indicating their gratitude for U.S. intervention; the Westerners are unhinged and oppose it. Amidst sanitized policy debates, Anderson's portrayal of the oddness of it all is a breath of fresh air." Reviewed by Pete Church, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
"[A] riveting look at the ill-conceived strategy to topple a dictator and reduce terrorism." Booklist
"[Anderson's] account of events subsequent to the invasion will disquiet anyone who supports a continued American presence there....First-rate frontline reportage, full of luminous and eye-opening details." Kirkus Reviews
"The Fall of Baghdad demonstrates...[Anderson's] knack for interviews, observations and finely crafted, powerful narratives. The great value of this book is that Anderson takes us beyond sound bites or official statements to hear the authentic voices of thoughtful, educated Iraqi civilians in interviews and vignettes that capture the chaos of wartime and its aftermath." The Washington Post Book World
Book News Annotation:
Anderson (a staff writer for The New Yorker) describes the US invasion and occupation of Iraq as he saw it from his position as a reporter based in Baghdad. One of the few American reporters to remain in Baghdad throughout the initial days of the war, he witnessed the "shock and awe" bombing and the looting and chaos that followed the fall of Baghdad. Throughout the narrative, he includes descriptions of interviews he conducted with Iraqis about the regime of Saddam Hussein and their experiences of war.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Jon Lee Anderson is the author of Guerrillas: Journeys in the Insurgent World; Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life; The Lion's Grave: Dispatches from Afghanistan; and, with his brother Scott Anderson, War Zones and Inside the League. He is a regular contributor to the New Yorker.
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