LONDON: An anonymous Iraqi woman was nominated Monday as a contender for a major literary award for her Internet blog-based account of the Iraq war and its deadly impact on ordinary Iraqi people.
“Baghdad Burning” by the university graduate, who uses the pen name Riverbend, is longlisted for the 30,000-pound ($52,000) Samuel Johnson prize – the world’s richest for a piece of non-fiction.
She is up against 18 other books out of 168 entries.
Among fellow nominees are established names including Alan Bennett and his offering “Untold Stories.”
In addition to Bennett (who is a writer of unusual perception) John Lewis Gaddis’s The Cold War is up for the same prize. I was going to wait until that book came out in paperback because the reviews I’ve read lead me to believe that Gaddis, who was the lead historian on The Cold War produced by Ted Turner and shown on CNN believes that Gorbechev “is the most deserving recipient ever” of the Nobel Peace Prize. Why? Because he didn’t send in the troops and massacre people. That’s right. Gaddis believes that the man who put 10,000 Soviet citizens in insane asylums for their political beliefs is a great man because he acted like a normal human being rather than a communist thug.
How moronic is that?
As for Riverbend, she is an excellent writer despite her virulent anti-Americanism. Rather than writing about the political or military situation, she writes about the personal travails of living through the war and the more frightening aspects of the occupation. In sometimes searing fashion, she has written about the death of friends and acquaintances as well as the simple daily complaints about lack of electricity and water, checkpoints, and the sense of lawlessness that permeates the streets.
I personally prefer Omar’s blog Iraq The Model whose matter of fact approach is at times even more moving than Riverbend. Omar is not as good a writer but somehow he is able to bring the tragedy home in a more realistic and immediate way. Riverbend’s emotionalism while effective, has a tendency to push the reader away rather allow the reader to share her pain.
Like Omar, Riverbend is a secular Iraqi who wants to see democracy take root. She believes this could best be accomplished by the Americans leaving. Omar thinks that the Americans must stay long enough to give the Iraqi government a chance to stand on its own. The Iraqis themselves are torn on the subject of the American military presence and these two brave souls reflect the feelings of millions of their countrymen who are now dealing with one of the bloodier periods in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam. As the bodies start to pile up and revenge killing begets revenge killing, Iraq begins to spiral into factional war with the politicians still unable to come together on many key issues.
I read Riverbend because she gives a perspective on the War that is important even though I don’t agree with it. I don’t think she has much of a chance of winning the prestigious prize but I wish her well and hope she stays safe.