Saturday, October 16, 2010

Barefoot in Baghdad, by Manal M. Omar


A Story of Identity--My Own and What It Means to Be a Woman in Chaos
Manal M. Omar
$14.00US, $17.99CAN
272 pages
Reprint Edition August 1, 2010

From Sourcebooks Press Release

“This poignant memoir tells a riveting story of hope and despair, of freedom and longing, by Manal Omar as she worked as a Regional Coordinator for Women for Women International, a nonprofit NGO, in Iraq. Omar recounts the extraordinary metamorphosis of Iraq from a liberated country into an occupied one and speaks of her quest to help as many Iraqi women as she could survive the savages of war and occupation.

As an American aid worker of Arab descent, Manal Omar’s background gave her an all-access pass to the dramatic shift in the fortunes of Iraq’s women following the invasion in 2003. Witness to a struggle that few outsiders saw, Omar chronicles the journey of a people determined to rise from the ashes of war and recreate themselves in the face of overwhelming obstacles. This is the story of her friendships with those whose lives were crumbling before her eyes. It is a tale of love, as her relationship with one Iraqi man intensified in a country in turmoil. And it is the stories of the women of Iraq, as they grapple with what it means to be female in a homeland you no longer recognize.”

My Review

After reading Barefoot in Baghdad, I am in awe of Manal Omar, her courage and tenacious spirit of determination is remarkable. As I read this book, I thought how important a read this is for all Americans. When Manal decided to go to Iraq to help women, she was in her twenties. She admits that it wasn’t until she arrived in Baghdad that she really realized the full extent of the risks she was taking in working to establish a center to help marginalized Iraqi women. She arrived in Iraq in 2003 and witnessed a country in constant flux, fighting to emerge as something better.

Manal is Palestinian, and a Southerner from the United States, a practicing Muslim and American. It is clear she is opposed to the war in Iraq and her initial surprise when entering the country was shocking. She was stunned to see the reactions of the Iraqi’s as they saw the American military as their liberators. A shift of consciousness became evident months later as liberator turned to occupier.

Omar describes life inside Iraq, struggling to stay alive as she traveled back and forth for her job. The Green Zone was the most safe place to be, but she would not live there. Anyone traveling the roads in Iraq were facing sudden death. Without a doubt her life was in constant jeopardy. She details the horrors of the years between 2006 and 2007 that were the most brutal, most risky for all who lived their. No one escaped the emotional impact to their lives from the aftermath of assassinations, the sudden disappearances and kidnappings that were random and senseless.

Iraq is like a piece of clay in the hands of different mindsets. The people of Iraq have a vision for their future, the political and religious factions have a vision, the aid workers have a vision, and the American military have a vision. Manal Omar offers a perspective during this complex artistic process. As the form emerges through violence and conflict she sees hope. What happens to Iraq as it enters a period of sovereignty remains to be seen.

As noted by Manal Omar in the beginning of her book:

“Barefoot in Baghdad takes its title from a popular Iraqi-Turkmen proverb that says, “Walk barefoot and the thorns will hurt you.” It is often used as a warning to those who challenge societal norms.”

Omar has written an engaging reflection of her experiences within Iraq that offers the reader first hand knowledge, emotional moments and a valuable summary of the turbulent times she witnessed. She challenged societal norms with a relentless drive and deep passion that even though warned, would not stop her. An apt title for an indomitable woman of wonder.

Disclosure: This was a book I received as an Early Reviewer for Library Thing.

Watch her video interview with MSNBC.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2010].


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This one caught my eye, as a recently discounted Kindle title, but I did not purchase it as I had too many books still unread. I sounds compelling.

How have you and the dogs been?

Helen's Book Blog said...

Oh this book looks so good! Thank you for introducing it to me. I am going to get it today and read it next. It will count for my Middle East Reading Challenge!

Audra said...

Great review -- I've heard a lot of buzz about this book but no reviews. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

Sarah at SmallWorld said...

Sounds like a great one! Thanks for the review; I'm adding it to my RBR list.

Sarah at SmallWorld said...

Sorry--that would be my "T" BR list!