Sunday, 24 September 2017


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Another important book from the Arab world that everyone should read.

After reading synopsis and preface of the book I was convinced, although doubting viability of such an endeavor, that what I am going to read is a kind of reportage with elements of comparative study of  4+ Arab countries, on basis of direct experience of six local people. And although Scott Anderson tends to form assumptions about the causes of ruptures in the subject Arab countries: "...lack of intrinsic sense of national identity, joined to a form of government that supplanted the traditional organizing principle of society...," these rather stem from a thorough knowledge of the region's intricacies and are here not to be proved but to bring clarity into the complexities of the region's current status.

Much of the book had first been published in a special issue of The New York Times Magazine on 14th August 2016. And it is precisely what I was craving for while reading this book - impressive, page-size journalistic photographs.

In the book Anderson relates stories of six people: the matriarch of a dissident Egyptian family, a Libyan Air Force cadet with divided loyalties, a Kurdish physician from a prominent warrior clan, a Syrian university student caught in civil war, an Iraqi activist for women's rights, and an Iraqi day laborer turned ISIS soldier. I think that there is nothing more telling than a firsthand recount of situation in place. More so in a war or fight against oppression. And although it is also true that these circumstances may in certain cases lead to a self-righteous advocacy of one's own stance, Anderson treats these pitfalls of human perception with detachment of a skilled war reporter and observer.

After reading The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria by Janine Di Giovanni, I thought I was prepared and knew what to expect from this kind of books. However, reading Fractured Lands, my second book from war-torn Arab countries, I came to realize that there's no general group of hardships (to use the softest term to describe it), no general group of acts that can be called atrocities. There is each hardship, each atrocity standing on its own, devastating, hitting unexpectedly making you grasp for your breath while you are reading about it in the calmness and safety of your home. But that's the pure truth and today's world, flooded with false information needs to know the truth and therefore to have more books like the Anderson's and Di Giovanni's.

In terms of set up of the book, I found a bit disturbing that the stories of the six people did not form six standalone parts but were rather scattered across time-periods. Due to lack of time I read this book in the span of 2 weeks and I found it a bit difficult to remember where a story of one of the persons previously ended when Anderson picked it up again in a next time-period/part. I understand that this arrangement had been done on purpose, to emphasize concurrency of the stories but personally I've found it a bit tricky at times to follow through.

Provided that I am not that well oriented in the succession of events in Arab countries I was also missing some kind of a timeline of the most important turning points. And although these were mentioned in the text quite comprehensively I think that a basic timeline would help a reader to clearly place each single story within a larger picture.

But these are rather minor adjustments that did not change the fact that this is an important book I would recommend to everyone and therefore I gave it 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Penguin Random House for sending me Fractured Lands upon my request. It makes an important part of my slowly growing collection of books on Arab world and I will most probably go for rereading it soon or later due to valuable information about Arab countries it contains.

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