Jihad, Choices, and Fearless Journalism

Book review: I Was Told to Come Alone, by Souad Mekhennet Sometimes a reporter is simply lucky enough to pick the right restaurant for tea. That’s one way journalist Souad Mekhennet, a contributor to the New York Times and Washington Post, among others, and a veritable force in modern journalism, describes her experience in 2001, listening in on conversations of the regulars in a Muslim neighborhood in Hamburg. Some of … Continue reading Jihad, Choices, and Fearless Journalism

Royals to Refugees: Roots of an Afghan Family

Book review: Crossing the River Kabul, by Kevin McLean Author Kevin McLean adopts the voice of Baryalai Popal to tell his dramatic true story, spanning decades, of escaping Afghanistan in 1980 during the Russian invasion and war, and his eventual trek to America. Now an American citizen, Baryalai (called Bar) was born into one of the two historic royal families of Afghanistan. Bar’s family history and … Continue reading Royals to Refugees: Roots of an Afghan Family

Tracking Al-Qaeda and the Hunt for Bin Laden, 9/11 to Now

Book review: The Exile, by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy Investigative journalist Lawrence Wright published the Pulitzer-winning narrative history The Looming Tower in 2006, detailing Al-Qaeda’s formation and the road to September 11. It closes shortly after the towers fall. With the recent popularity of the film Zero Dark Thirty portraying the SEAL team raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, a narrative was fixed in the public mind, though it’s … Continue reading Tracking Al-Qaeda and the Hunt for Bin Laden, 9/11 to Now

Food As Love in Any Language

Book review: The Language of Baklava, by Diana Abu-Jaber I’m falling in love with “foodoirs” lately. Those are food-themed memoirs, in case you’re late to the genre, like I was. This one moved me more than I unexpected. Novelist Diana Abu-Jaber was born in America to a Jordanian immigrant father and an American mother. Her family, including two younger sisters, lived in upstate Syracuse, New York, … Continue reading Food As Love in Any Language

Dispatches from an Occupied Land

Book review: The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from Islamic State, by Samer, translated by Nader Ibrahim Samer (not his real name) is a Syrian hoping to begin his studies when Assad’s regime is overthrown and the Islamic State (referred to here as Daesh, another of its names) rolls into the country, taking Raqqa as a de facto capital. The citizens have a brief glimmer of hope that things … Continue reading Dispatches from an Occupied Land

Story of a Family, Story of Syria

The Home That Was Our Country, by Alia Malek Journalist and civil rights lawyer Alia Malek was born in Baltimore to Syrian parents. With the memory of her beloved grandmother Salma, the matriarch of their large extended family, and Salma’s apartment in Damascus, she always felt a strong connection and pull to the country. Her parents themselves had always intended to return home, but thanks … Continue reading Story of a Family, Story of Syria

When Blasphemy, Heresy and Apostasy are Necessary

Book review: Heretic, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali On ______, a group of ______ heavily armed, black-clad men burst into a ______ in ______, opening fire and killing a total of ______ people. The attackers were filmed shouting “Allahu akbar!” Speaking at a press conference, President ______ said: “We condemn this criminal act by extremists. Their attempt to justify their violent acts in the name of a religion … Continue reading When Blasphemy, Heresy and Apostasy are Necessary

Iran’s Culinary Culture and the Appeal of the Temporary Marriage

Book review: The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Food and Love in Iran Published in 2014 in the UK, Australian, and New Zealand markets, Jennifer Klinec’s Iranian food and romance memoir The Temporary Bride will be published on Valentine’s Day in the U.S. Klinec abandons a financially secure career in London to open a cooking school out of her apartment. In search of new recipes, she travels to … Continue reading Iran’s Culinary Culture and the Appeal of the Temporary Marriage

Experiencing a Lighter Side of War

Book review: The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker Post-9/11, Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker accepts a position as South Asian bureau chief based out of Delhi, but more often the work entails going on embed with military units in Afghanistan. She knows nothing about these countries culturally or what to expect from the conflict. She was selected for the job since she … Continue reading Experiencing a Lighter Side of War

Across Land and Sea, a Teenage Refugee and Her Flight from Syria

Book review: Nujeen, by Nujeen Mustafa with Christina Lamb I fell in love with Nujeen Mustafa, like many did, when Last Week Tonight host John Oliver used BBC interview clips of the teenage Syrian refugee at a way station on the Serbian-Hungarian border as she traveled to Germany with her sister. She was so sweet and optimistic despite her unimaginably difficult journey and experiences in the war-torn homeland she’d fled. … Continue reading Across Land and Sea, a Teenage Refugee and Her Flight from Syria

Field Guide to the Strange and Unusual

Quinta da Regaliera in Sintra, near Lisbon, Portugal. Me, in blue, in the deep, dark, moss-covered Initiation Well where Masonic ceremonies allegedly took place. One of the fantastic, fascinating sites highlighted in the book Book review: Atlas Obscura, by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton How often do you hear of travel guides promising to lead you off the beaten path? And how often do those revealed … Continue reading Field Guide to the Strange and Unusual

Fight like a girl

Book review: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg “We all have to work very hard and ignore those people who say we should not be here.” So says a female Afghani politician, one of the subjects of Jenny Nordberg’s eye-opening narrative nonfiction account of the practice of bacha posh in Afghanistan, The Underground Girls of Kabul. The quoted politician, Azita, is the mother of a bacha … Continue reading Fight like a girl