Friday, October 29, 2010

Barefoot in Baghdad

by Manal M. Omar
Naperville, Ill. : Sourcebooks, c2010.

*This book was received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. As per the rules, I receive a free book in return for a review, and whether it's positive or negative has no affect on my receiving books in the future.*

Manal Omar is a Palestinian-American, a Muslim and a woman. When she was given the opportunity to work in Baghdad for an agency dedicated to providing women with training to allow them to be more financially independent and put their war-torn lives together, she felt uniquely qualified to do the job. Omar's story focuses primarily on her thoughts, feelings, interactions, and a few "outside" cases working for Women for Women International, a non-governmental agency (NGO) starting a branch in Iraq in 2003. As she spends time in Iraq, she finds herself attempting to negotiate between distinct worlds, and making compromises she never expected.

The memoir could have used more stringent editing, as there was some repetition of thought (even within the same paragraph), some awkward sentences, and sometimes minimal connection between the chapter headings and content. Despite this, Omar presents a broad spectrum of women in Iraq, from the elite and well-off to the poorer women she was drawn to help. She is up front with her political leanings, and stubborn to a fault about certain things. I sometimes wished that she would include facts or statistics to back up some of her broader, opinionated claims. Since I was expecting a story about her work for the international aid organization, I was surprised at the tight focus on Omar herself. I did not learn much about her regular work; instead, she focuses on interactions she has with staff, friends, and U.S. military in Iraq, as well as detailing a few of the cases considered outside the purview of her position. Towards the end of the memoir, however, I realized that this is more a reflection of her time in Iraq and the memories that haunt her rather than an enumeration of success stories.

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