On the one hand, the witty and spirited account of a fascinating journey makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read. On the other hand, Hemming succeeds in his real mission: to paint a balanced picture of the Middle East for readers in Europe. Hemming submerges himself in the communities with which he comes into contact and is able to provide a sketch which is free from the distortions of politics and the media in both Europe and the Middle East. We meet the party-loving, young Iranians who don't want to wage war against the world; we witness acts of enormous kindness from the poorest Muslims to Christians; we hear of Iraqis tired of violence. But we also see the other side: we hear the prejudiced beliefs; meet women repressed by their families; we find corrupt officials.
But the overwhelming reminder deposited by Hemming - even if he never states it explicitly - is that of the basic tenet of global humanity: cultures may be coloured by their identities, but essentially they all have similar values and aspirations at their core. A reminder that could not be more timely, and a reminder needed by many who forget to decouple politics from nations.
An excellent first book by a young author with a bright future.