Thursday, 28 July 2011

TALKING ABOUT JANE AUSTEN IN BAGHDAD: THE TRUE STORY OF AN UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIP


Book cover of the English version
I’ve literally just this minute  closed the book on its last page and I can’t explain how deeply moved I feel. I’m profoundly touched by its happy ending. Maybe,  it is because it’s not a novel but a true story and the thought that all I have been  reading  really happened moved me to tears more than once while reading . I’m getting older and at the same time  more sensitive,  I know. But what can be done to change that?
Honestly, I bought this book  thinking there would be much more Austen in it. In fact, there was very little. However, I’m not disappointed,  I liked it a lot.  More than liked it, loved it!
What is this book about?  It is an exchange of e-mail messages (from January 2005 to October 2008) between two very different women who, little by little,  develop a firm friendship based on a strong feeling of sympathy.
May teaches English Literature at a university in Baghdad,  to a class of girls  and,  even though nothing could be farther from the reality surrounding them, she leaves her house every day to talk to them about Jane Austen.  Old times’ skirmishes vs real war.  
May and Bee - Good friends thanks to Jane Austen
At the same time, May tries to lead an ordinary life, going shopping or to the hairdresser’s,  challenging  the possibility of being involved in a bomb explosion  each time.  She has to cope with on and off electrical power supply, black market and the government’s repression against intellectuals like her,  or different ethnic groups  like her husband’s.
Bee is a journalist living in London and her challenge is to run her life between her three little daughters  and her work at BBC World, with a globetrotter as a husband.
May and Bee couldn’t be more different. Culture, religion, kilometers separate them. Yet, when they get into contact through e-mail, because Bee wants an interview with May, they become friends. They tell each other about their routines. May’s messages become a sort of diary of the  life in  troubled Iraq.  A schizophrenic country where girls put on their make-up and unveil or untie their hair once they get to school, and then cover or compose themselves again before going back home , or  where a daughter can still be rejected  by her family for marrying a younger man of an inferior rank. Yet  a country in which Jane Austen is not so impossible  to read and appreciate as an escape.  Jane Austen or  Dickens, but it is not an easy task to read "The Scarlet Letter" by  Nathaniel Hawthorne with them. What those girls could never be able to understand is the idea of freedom or that of real democracy.
Bee and May in London
After  the initial lightness , May’s messages become more and more dripping of fear.  For instance,  “We were in Dorset for 10 days and had loads of people coming, so I thought it would be exhausting,” Bee Rowlatt writes. “Just as I was making tea and preparing breakfast a bomb exploded outside,” May Witwit answers.
 A race against time starts in order to save May and her husband, Alì.  Bee feels guilty when she sends  May her tales about balancing a career with bringing up young daughters , about the stress of  a free woman coping with her  little troubles  or her  jealousy towards  her own husband’s freedom to focus on his career . No bloodshed, no bombs, no violence, no poverty . She feels guilty , but to May those stories are both escape and hope. May hopes and dreams of  joining  Bee in England one day, to start all over with a different  life in a different country.  So  Bee begins to worki and fight for her friend,  so that May’s dream may come true. 

May Witwit lives in England with her husbands now.

I highly recommend this book to all those of you who love literature and the classics, as well as a well - written tale of real life from a female point of view. I found May’s and Bee’s  attitudes to life very enlightening . Both of them have their own personal, original , involving writing style. They’ve learnt much from books and  use that knowledge to face the hardships in life. "A book can save your life", be it Jane Austen or Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Hawthorne or Hemingway . Not simply a saying. It seems books , together with Bee's friendship and solidarity, really helped May to survive in the hell of  Baghdad.  


5 comments:

Lynnae said...

Wow, that looks fabulous! I may have to put it on my wish list!

mesmered said...

Me too... it sounds wonderful.

maribea said...

Oh Maria Grazia, do not change, please. It is a blessing to be a sensitive person. Moreover, I was deeply moved by your review of the book. Imagine reading the book. So I am a weeping person, too!!And definitely: I have to read this book.

Kath said...

What a touching and truly remarkable story. I can understand why you were touched by it. I'd have been worried, if you hadn't cried while reading it, to be honest. I'm putting this on my TBR pile, thanks to your review. It ultimately sounds like an uplifting read.

Anunciando e Reciclando said...

Hi! I like your blog! It has useful information.

I am following your blog. I ask kindly that you visit and follow my blog as well.

Success to you!

Kisses!

Claudia Paiva (Anunciando e Reciclando)

http://vendertrocar.blogspot.com