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Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad: The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship Paperback – 4 Feb 2010
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About the Author
Bee Rowlatt is a former show-girl turned BBC World Service journalist. A mother of three and would-be do-gooder, she can find keeping her career going while caring for her three daughters (and husband) pretty tough, even in leafy North London.
May Witwit is an Iraqi expert in Chaucer and sender of emails depicting kittens in fancy dress. She is prepared to face every hazard imaginable to make that all-important hairdresser's appointment.
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Top customer reviews
This book showed a stark difference between the lives of the two women. Bee has three children and has the usual concerns of juggling work, marriage and family. May, however, tells in her emails of life living in Baghdad after the invasion and after Saddam Hussein has been overthrown. She writes of bombs, assassinations and shootings.
I started off not knowing if I would find this book a little boring, but I soon got into it and enjoyed reading about the women's lives. Bee decides to assist May in getting her and her husband out of Baghdad and over to England and the ending of the book actually moved me to tears.
Despite it being a normal email correspondence, with all the trivial details that friends often write to each other, I found this to be the sort of book where I wanted to read just another email, and then just another. It's very readable and I enjoyed it very much.
They quickly became friends and this book is their collection of emails - back and forth, starting in January 2005 until October 2008.
Bee is a mother of two daughters, pregnant with her third, living and working in London. She is married to Justin and lives a fairly comfortable life, with lots of holidays, friends and parties. Meanwhile, May is coping with life in occupied Baghdad. Married to her second husband and alienated from his family due to religious beliefs. Coping with days with no electricity, bombs, shootings, murders, house searches, no fuel, no freedom and no hope.
The contrast between the two women's lives is immense - yet they become firm friends, calling each other 'sister' and able to talk about anything at all.
May and her husband Ali are desperate to leave Iraq, they want to start a new life together, away from war.
Over the course of the three years of correspondence we follow their battle with authority to gain visas and enough money to see their dream through. Every obstacle imaginable is put in their way. There are times when both women become very despondent and depressed, but there are also times of laughter and joy.
This is a wonderfully well put together book. In e-mail form, honest and no holds barred. It is hard to imagine just what difference the US invasion of Iraq made to the ordinary people living there. May talks about life under the regime of Saddam and how it was often not so bad, and how people have suffered far more since the invasion. She is not condoning Saddam's regime, but life was easier and not so dangerous.
The contrast of Bee's busy London life, bringing up small children whilst working in stressful job is often a welcome distraction from the horrors of life in Baghdad.
This is the true story of a most unlikely friendship, emotional, touching, funny - a wonderful read that I enjoyed very much.
This book reveals the reality of a life lived in a war zone. For May explosions and murders are a constant part of her daily life in a way that would have us running for our post traumatic stress counsellor. But May has no choice but to get on with her life, this book shows us just how hard and painful that is. Her friend Bee does have a choice and unlike most of us she's prepared to get involved and to really try to help May.
So it's an inspiring and moving story of two strong, brave women.
Yet it's also a laugh out loud funny, amazingly candid "warts and all' look into two womens lives. I really enjoyed reading this book and I'd thoroughly recommend it to anyone.
The emails track the growth of their friendship and their campaign to get May and her husband Ali out of Iraq and over to the UK. The best bits are the details of everyday life - dodgy militia to get a hair cut, covering up when your baby daughter pees herself in the photo processor's shop - and the frustrations of dealing with beaurocracy.
There's nothing actually wrong with this book it's just - in my opinion - it's much too long. If you got access to my email account and wanted to read my mails to friends it would probably seem quite interesting to start with. But after 370 pages of letters back and forth, I couldn't help but thinking there was a great 200 page book tucked between the covers and 170 pages of filler and fluff. I have no objection to long books but when there's little plot and just the exchange of the minutiae of everyday life, it feels like a mountain to climb to keep plodding through.
I take my hat off to whoever it was that abridged this for the BBC series - I wish that Bee and May had been willing to give an editor a little more free reign with a red pen. Had they done so this might well have been a 5 star read rather than a 3 star drag.
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I laughed and cryed as the story teller read the emails between these two women.Read more
It comprises the email exchanges of a London journalist and an Iraqi academic, which may or may not be...Read more