Waiting for an Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq
by Farnaz Fassihi

Public Affairs, a member of the Perseus Books Group, 2008. ISBN 978-1-586-48475-0.
Reviewed by Rhonda Esakov
Posted on 10/07/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: History/Current Events

In her book, Waiting for an Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq, Farnaz Fassihi presents a heart-wrenching portrait of the Iraqi people as they come to terms with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the rebuilding of their war-torn country. Drawing on her experiences as a Wall Street Journal senior correspondent living in Iraq, Fassihi portrays a compelling story of the struggles of the regular citizens and their families. At first they cheer the Americans for tumbling a brutal dictator, but then weep in despair as the free life they dreamed about becomes a nightmare.

This book is not a discourse on military tactics and political blunders, but readers need to know that many of the Iraqi people interviewed relate disturbing stories with heavy overtones of anti-Americanism and criticism of the President, and at times, Fassihi finds herself voicing her agreement. Descriptions and conversations, framed by the author's own pain and compassion, focus on the lives of people she has befriended. Many are affected by the overthrow, occupation and subsequent collapse of an Iraqi society that blames not only the two major ruling religious sects (Sunni and Shi'ite), but also the foreign occupiers. In Fassihi's words, "Sometimes I find myself wanting to cry while I'm interviewing people and other times I feel detached, like a machine recording misery and death."

During all this turmoil, Fassihi finds love with a fellow correspondent in this war-torn land. When they are on separate assignments, she is tormented by fears of separation. Her family begs her to come home and give up her position as head of the Baghdad bureau of the Wall Street Journal, but she is drawn in by the plight of the Iraqi people and was even accused of being addicted to the job's constant threats of bombings, shootings and bloodshed. She is persecuted as a woman, shunned for being American, but loved because of her compassion for the people. Under threats of kidnapping, murder, torture, Farnaz attempts to take care of her workers and friends while dodging bullets and car bombs.

The Iraqi people dedicate their lives to regaining their dignity, preserving their art and culture, sustaining their religious beliefs and most of all hoping that some day they will indeed see an ordinary day. Their homes are bombed and searched while loved ones are forcefully detained and spirited away at the slightest rumor. Those detained often don't return, leaving families desparate to know their fate. If they do return, months later, the tales of torture, persecution and deprivations are horrendous. Fassihi's employee, Munaf, sums up their daily lives with the comment, "We are like animals in the wild. We eat, sleep and try not to get killed each day."

This powerful account of life in Iraq helps us understand why stability has been so elusive to the people of a beleaguered country. The details are rich, the story well written, and throughout the book, the true voices of the Iraqi people are heard because of the an empathetic, insightful woman who is not afraid to put herself into the middle of the story.

Farnaz Fassihi is the deputy bureau chief for Middle East and Africa for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to joining the Journal in 2003 she was a foreign correspondent during three wars and reported extensively from the Middle East. Her family is Iranian-American; she has degrees in English from Tehran University and in Journalism from Columbia University. Her essays on the Iraq war have appeared in several publications and books, and an e-mail she wrote from Baghdad was included in an anthology of historical letters written by American Women. She is now based in Beirut, Lebanon. You can listen to her discussion of the book on the Democracy Now website.

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