Synopses & Reviews
Travel books bring us to places. War books bring us to tragedy. This book brings us to one woman’s travels in war zones: the locals she met, the compassion they scraped from catastrophe, and the food they ate.
Peace Meals is a true story about conflict and food. It illustrates the most important lesson Anna Badkhen has observed as a journalist: war can kill our friends and decimate our towns, but it cannot destroy our inherent decency, generosity, and kindness—that which makes us human. Badkhen writes:
There is more to war than the macabre—the white-orange muzzle flashes during a midnight ambush . . . the scythes of shrapnel whirling . . . like lawnmower blades spun loose; the tortured and the dead. There are also the myriad brazen, congenial, persistent ways in which life in the most forlorn and violent places on earth shamelessly reasserts itself. Of those, sharing a meal is one of the most elemental.
No other book about war has looked at the search for normalcy in conflict zones through the prism of food. In addition to the events that dominate the news today—the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—Peace Meals also bears witness to crises that are less often discussed: the conflict in Chechnya, the drought cycle in East Africa, the failed post-Soviet states, the Palestinian intifada.
Peace Meals focuses on day-to-day life, describing not just the shocking violence but also the beauty that continues during wartime: the spring flowers that bloom in the crater hollowed by an air-to-surface missile, the lapidary sanctuary of a twelfth-century palace besieged by a modern battle, or a meal a tight-knit family shares in the relative safety of their home as a firefight rages outside. It reveals how one war correspondent’s professional choices are determined not only by her opinion of which story is important but also by the instinctive comparisons she, a young
mother, makes each time she meets children in war zones; by her intrinsic sense of guilt for leaving her family behind as she goes off to her next dangerous assignment; and, quite prosaically—though not surprisingly—by her need to eat.
Wherever Badkhen went, she broke bread with the people she wrote about, and the simple conversations over these meals helped her open the door into the lives of strangers. Sometimes dinner was bread and a fried egg in a farmer’s hut, or a packet of trail mix in the back of an armored humvee. Sometimes it was a lavish, four-course meal at the house of a local warlord, or a plate of rice and boiled meat at a funeral tent. Each of these straightforward acts of humanity tells a story. And these stories, punctuated by recipes from these meals, form Peace Meals. Following Badkhen’s simple instructions, readers will taste what made life in these tormented places worth living.
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2011 JAMES BEARD FOUNDATION WRITING AND LITERATURE AWARD FINALIST
Travel books bring you places. War books bring you tragedy. In Peace Meals, war reporter Anna Badkhen brings us not only an unsparing and intimate history of some of the last decade’s most vicious conflicts but also the most human elements that transcend the dehumanizing realities of war: the people, the compassion they scraped from catastrophe, and the food they ate.
Making palpable the day-to-day life during conflicts and catastrophes, Badkhen describes not just the shocking violence but also the beauty of events that take place even during wartime: the spring flowers that bloom in the crater hollowed by an air-to-surface missile, the lapidary sanctuary of a twelfth-century palace besieged by a modern battle, or a meal a tight-knit family shares as a firefight rages outside. Throughout Badkhen’s stories, punctuated by recipes from the meals she shared with the people she encountered, emerges the most important lesson she has observed in conflict zones from Afghanistan to Chechnya: that war can kill our friends and decimate our towns, but it cannot destroy our inherent decency, generosity, and kindness—that which makes us human.
An unforgettable portrait of a place and a people shaped by centuries of art, trade, and war.
In the middle of the salt-frosted Afghan desert, in a village so remote that Google canandrsquo;t find it, a woman squats on top of a loom, making flowers bloom in the thousand threads she knots by hand. Here, where heroin is cheaper than rice, every day is a fast day. B-52s pass overheadandmdash;a sign of Americaandrsquo;s omnipotence or its vulnerability, the villagers are unsure. They know, though, that the earth is flatandmdash;like a carpet.
Anna Badkhen first traveled to this country in 2001, as a war correspondent. She has returned many times since, drawn by a land that geography has made a perpetual battleground, and by a people who sustain an exquisite tradition there. Through the four seasons in which a new carpet is woven by the women and children of Oqa, she immortalizes their way of life much as the carpet doesandmdash;from the petal half-finished where a hungry infant needs care to the interruptions when the women trade sex jokes or go fill in for wedding musicians scared away by the Taliban. As Badkhen follows the carpet out into the world beyond, she leaves the reader with an indelible portrait of fates woven by centuries of art, war, and an ancient trade that ultimately binds the invaded to the invader.
About the Author
Anna Badhken was born in the Soviet Union and moved to a Massachusetts suburb in 2004. She has been covering conflicts since 2001, first for the San Francisco Chronicle, and later, for such publications as The New Republic, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, Salon.com, Ms. Magazine, Marie Claire, PBS Frontline/World, the National (Abu Dhabi), Center for Investigative Reporting, and Truthdig.com. Her wartime reporting won the 2007 Joel R. Seldin Award for reporting on civilians in war zones from Psychologists for Social Responsibility. She also was a finalist, in 2002 and 2005, for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists in the International Reporting category. She is 34 years old.