Thura’s Diary: My Life in Wartime Iraq by Thura Al-Windawi Translated by Robin Bray

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Thura's Diary

It has been a while since I’ve read a wartime diary from a young woman’s perspective, but if memory serves, both Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo, not only enlightened me to what living through the atrocities was like, but also emotionally established a connection of how horrific the truth of war really is; this book unfortunately, did neither.  To give it the benefit of the doubt I am now reading it as an adult, which may have changed my expectations and hardened my understanding of war, but very little in this 136 page book was memorable to me.  An AR level 6.1 the book is a quick read with some odd footnotes and definitions on each page.  I’m assuming the translator wanted to make sure the book flowed, but for some reason the bold words and obvious definitions annoyed me.  The center of the book is filled with pictures of Thura and her friends and family in both England and Iraq, which I found misleading since she never really introduces us to her friends so frequently pictured.  Overall I felt like I had more questions about what her life was like during 2003 then she answered.  I understand that it reads like a rough draft, because it is presumably her true diary, but it seems if you were going to publish it you would flesh it out a bit, explain why you ended up not going to the countryside on various occasions, explain your father’s role in the Baath party, what happened with your BBC interviews, explain why you feel that women have no rights, did you feel this way before shock and awe? What did you come to America to study? etc..

SUMMARY:

Nineteen year old Thura is in Pharmacy School when news breaks that the coalition forces are going to start bombing Iraq.  Her family is middle class, religious, but liberal, and as they prepare for the inevitable their lives become uncertain to say the least.  The oldest of three daughters Thura attempts to articulate the fear of bombs falling, the anxiousness of what will happen to their homes, friends, and families, while not necessarily being “adult” enough to be privy to all information to share insight into the rational that is now her life.  At times she seems to whine about her situation, and at other instances she has patience and maturity to appreciate that they are safe and together. The choppiness of why one day she is able to go to the journalist’s hotel, but the next day can’t leave, and her back and forth feelings about school are never explained and leave holes in her narrative.  If the intent is to explain what life in wartime Iraq was like, relying on the readers to fill in the gaps is counter productive and inaccurate.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that it is written by a young, modern girl, and is a conflict that in many ways is still ongoing, and providers children today with some insight beyond the headlines.  The book on the surface will allow a dialogue to take place potentially forcing students to imagine what their lives would be like in a similar situation, and how quickly the safety and security you feel can be uprooted.  She is a relate-able figure in that she is in college and she worries about her friends and family.  It is also a fairly easy read.  Non-fiction for many is dry and factual and this book reads more like a story, which I think would appeal to many students, particularly those with ties to Iraq.

FLAGS:

The book does use strong language on a few occasions: hell and bastard.  It also mentions pornography a few times, in the context that once Saddam is overthrown pornographic magazines and films are becoming commonplace and it makes her uncomfortable.  She mentions that culturally growing up she is even “embarrassed just to hear the word ‘sex’.”

She is very anti hijab and it isn’t explained why.  She discusses religion in a more cultural way, but does discuss reading Quran on one occasion, and mentions the masjid. As a whole, it doesn’t seem to be a big part of her life, but obviously is a part of her environment.  She mentions the lack of women’s rights and her frustration with her own people preventing her from moving about uncovered after the soldiers occupy Baghdad, but not knowing why she is against hijab specifically leaves a lot of guesswork that could be taken many ways in the reader’s mind.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know if I would do this as a Book Club book.  I would probably discuss it with the Middle School Social Studies teacher and see if it could supplement a lesson or be offered as extra credit perhaps, but because there are such holes in the narrative I would be nervous to be presumptuous about what she means, or what was going on in certain places, being that it is a work of non-fiction.

A 7th grade lesson plan: http://chippewavalleyela.pbworks.com/f/Gr+7+Unit+3+Teacher+Lesson+Plan.pdf

The copy I read has questions and things to consider every few pages and an “Exchange” on the back inside cover with ideas, questions, and reflections outlined.

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