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Karama!: Journeys Through the Arab Spring [Paperback]

Johnny West
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Aug 2011

Johnny West has lived in this area for the past decade and speaks fluent Arabic, and so has the skills and ability to talk to everyone from security guards to revolutionaries, from families of protestors, some of whom have been killed, to oil workers, to cafe owners, lawyers, barbers and clerics. Travelling on public buses, visiting with families, hanging out in shops and cafes, he brings out for all of us what made ordinary people erupt, what happened to them during those days and now, what their hopes, fears and dreams are, how they see us in the West, how each country is different but how they see themselves as part of a joint Arab culture, before Islamists. Johnny West's long experience in the area enables him to set all this in context, while never losing the vividness of a travel book or the characters of a novel. This is not a political treatise but a journey of discovery - of people, of places, of life under extraordinary circumstances - which this book allows us to share and makes one feels as if one had been there.

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Karama!: Journeys Through the Arab Spring + The Arab Revolution: Ten Lessons from the Democratic Uprising + The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism
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Product details

  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Heron Books (4 Aug 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857389947
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857389947
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 397,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


'John West, a former Reuters correspondent in Cairo, plunges into this confusion with bright-eyed curiosity and a natural storyteller's appreciation of disconcerting detail. His tendency to pick up the threads of cafe conversation takes him into strange corners scarcely noticed by news reporters' Financial Times.

'Descriptions will resonate for anyone who knows the region ... West adds spine-chilling veracity to his narrative whilst at the same time giving a voice to those who have often fearfully chosen to remain silent' Wanderlust.

From the Back Cover

The Arab Spring took all of us by surprise. The questions we all have are how can such leaderless revolts, so different from others in the past, have arisen, why there, and why now. Johnny West is the perfect guide on this quest. Returning to countries in which he had lived years before, he travels by bus and communal taxi through the back streets and small towns and sits in houses and cafes, in offices and barber shops, a fly-on-the-wall observer of encounters and arguments; he talks to students and managers, to protestors and their families, to oil workers and clerics, to people and in places where none of the media have been. Through all the conversations across Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, the author draws us into an exhilarating portrait of unforgettable characters of the Arab Spring and shares with us how they see their future. Karama! makes you feel you are there, in those dusty streets, and that you understand why those thousands and thousands created the Arab Spring.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By zararah
As someone who's never been to the Middle East, my impression of the Arab Spring was drawn from a bombardment of news reports; despite realising the importance of the events, it was very difficult to properly identify with the millions of people who had triggered this incredible revolution.

This changed with Karama. The book introduces us to a wide range of individuals, some who are by now fairly well known- the family of Khaled Said, for example- and others, whose stories would not otherwise have been told. We meet courageous 20-somethings who have been transformed into national heroes, and read the astonishing story of an unspoken truce between police and civilians during daylight hours which was replaced by violent warfare at night, and pages later we encounter an old-school army superior, convinced that Mubarak had it right. There are seemingly mundane events, such as journeys in shared taxis and coffees on street corners, which give us an insight into the views of "ordinary" people, combined with run-ins with the army at checkpoint and horrific stories from torture victims; perhaps an insight into the huge diversity of events happening in the Middle East at the moment.

Reading so many different perspectives on the Arab Spring from those who were there, those who took part (or actively didn't take part) and those who are now living in the consequences of the revolution, was fascinating. Instead of providing a political analysis into the events, West offers an unashamedly subjective account, and it is for this reason that the book is so unique amongst the mountain of reading material already available about the revolution.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Never more so than in the wake of the most recent reports from the frontline in Libya, many of us find it difficult to make sense of the chaotic mixture of exhilarating hope and guilty trepidation about the future inspired by the Arab Spring.

In his account, West deals not in the discourse of overly politicized commentary, glib remarks around the table at dinner parties, nor drily objective reporting, but in the everyday observations of a man with an evident and sincere affection for this complex region. The author by no means shies from exposing the rough with the smooth & the inherent naivety of the heady expectations of the revolutionaries is often left clear to see. The account is all the richer for presenting the keen perceptions of someone who has built a slow and steady acquaintance with this region, rather than the fleeting crisis-chaser looking for a quick headline. The author in fact himself admits an awkward progression in his relationship with the Middle East, from the early stage of infatuation and inevitable `attraction-to-the-Other', through mild disappointment and resulting in a deep sense of familiarity - a journey surely familiar to all those who have stumbled upon absorbing passions for mesmerizing yet bewildering parts of the world.

Through the lens of everyday issues, garnered through conversations snatched not in government ministires or press pens but in coffee shops and grocery stores, (such as the wounded pride of the legions of 45-year old Tunisian men living at home and still extracting pocket money from their parents) we begin to look on the genesis of the eventual explosive events in Tahrir Square from a new angle.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring. 30 Oct 2011
The best read I've had in a long time. Very fresh - this was written and published very quickly. Lots of first-hand accounts, voices of people who were there and involved. Also a lot of insight from the author - this is someone who really knows what he is writing about. A snapshot in time, because things have already moved on, but this will stand as an inspirational read, however things turn out, becuase of the optimism and strength of the voices that come through.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Underwhelmed 28 July 2013
By euan
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I purchased this book in order to understand more about the people's lives in the countries affected by the Arab Spring. However, as much as this book provides some interesting conversations between the author and the civilians, you can't get past the fact that the author spends as much time reminiscing his own past visits to north Africa and going off on tangents regarding issues that people are not that bothered about.

The delivery of the people's stories is somewhat disappointing. I was hoping for much more detail and less of the basic conversational dialogue that this book is full of. I must commend the author on his understanding of Arabic, but his constant reminders about his ability to speak the language add nothing to the book.

I bought this to educate myself further on the north African revolutions but find myself knowing more about the author's past work, education, holidays and experiences. If you wish to know what the author thought about swimming in the Med then by all means buy this book. However, if you are after an entirely unbiased view of the revolutions steer clear as it will only annoy you to have to tolerate the authors persistent opinions and tall tales that are thrust upon you in every chapter.
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