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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Pages : 213
Price : US $21.95
Publisher : Cyan
Year : 2007

They arrived a suitcase in their hands with the men they'd fallen in love with. It was to a land they'd soon grow to love. It was a journey, they hadn't quite imagined. There were no potatoes. Unthinkable. Like so many others, they were journey women. Is it an ordinary story?

Not when you put two Englishwomen in an Iraqi landscape, one that in the years to come would be marred by war, violence and conflict.

Pauline and Margaret's journey into this world began when they fell in love, got married and followed their Iraqi husbands back to Mosul, which was their home for almost 30 years when journalist Lynne O'Donnell met them.

It started with a High Tea, served with love, hope, anticipation. It blossomed into a friendship, sounds familiar? Then like a true friend Lynne narrates this story that could have easily run the risk of being a mushy surviving the war tale with the deepest conviction.

She goes all out to protect the identity of one of her characters and that of her family because freedom has meant Iraq is no longer a safe place to live.

With the access she has, Lynne takes you into their world, a world that sounds so much like yours and mine:
Sometimes they would make cakes, whatever was their speciality.... and they'd brew pot after pot of tea while they bellyached, and moaned and gossiped, and laughed....and play Scrabble, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and reminisce. And at the end of the afternoon, they'd go back to their own homes, in time for their children to come in from school, to get them started on homework.....knowing that no matter how tough things got or how lonely they sometimes felt, they weren't alone; they had friends who saw things the same way they did, who would look out for them, who loved them. And so, for a little while every now and then at least, the burden of being a foreign wife had been eased and everything felt better.

It is details like these, it is in those fleeting moments of normalcy captured in a time when everything else is falling apart, that make High Tea in Mosul stand out. The war changes everything, death threats, kidnappings, ransoms, movements curtailed and the final straw inflicted by Operation Iraqi Freedom - all of this is evocatively captured.

Lynne was among the first Western journalists to enter Mosul after it fell to US troops in April 2003 and she takes you through the most sweeping changes there through this story.

It's impossible not to love it. Her characters are strong, they are resilient and they teach you almost everything there is to life along the way:

I do not regret anything. Life is what you make of it. You have good and bad experiences and you learn from both. I think regret is a wasted emotion.

If you think that resonates, then go ahead, read the book and don't leave without without heading to this blog.

In this post on June 20th, Pauline tells us:
Jamal had a scare when his taxi turned towards Mosul

At last Jamal has finished his exams.

He had a scare on Sunday — he took a taxi from the college and the driver headed for the turn off to Mosul. Panicking and scared, Jamal asked the driver what he was doing and he told him he had to go to a nearby village with some business. Jamal demanded he stop the car, paid the fare and got taxi. He said he thought he was being kidnapped and the thought of being taken anywhere near Mosul was enough to put the fear into him.

Only goes to show, some battles can never be won, whatever they may say about that thing about hearts and minds.

Coming up soon, a review of Mark Tully's latest - the reading of which has been interrupted by the arrival of Khaled Hosseini's 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'. 200 pages into it, all I can say is unputdownable. My panda eyes are proof.

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