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Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004
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****Thura's Diary

My Life in Wartime Iraq

by Thura Al-Windawi

translated by Robin Bray

Reviewed July 7, 2004.
Viking, New York, 2004.  131 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #2, Children's Nonfiction

Here’s a diary from a 19-year-old Iraqi girl about life in Baghdad during the recent war.  This book was gripping, moving, and left me thinking about it long after I finished.

The book doesn’t say a lot about Thura’s life before the American invasion.  When Thura was a little girl, she lived in England, while her father got his PhD.  The rest of her life was spent in Baghdad with her parents and her two younger sisters.  She was studying at the Baghdad College of Pharmacology to be a chemist.  We don’t hear about many hardships under Saddam Hussein’s regime except that her father was not allowed to travel anywhere, and he owned a satellite dish that would have gotten him arrested if it were discovered.

Then the war started.  The family stayed in Baghdad for most of it, but when things got too close for comfort, they moved out to the country and stayed with relatives.  Naturally, schools closed, and only after the fighting was supposedly long over were they able to go back to school, although the buildings had been looted so even blackboards were missing.  Their father couldn’t go back to work, since he had once worked for the Baathists.

There are some ironies in the book.  While they were waiting for the Americans to invade, they stayed inside and watched Tom and Jerry cartoons—made in America.

Thura had her diary published “to try to bring about a greater understanding of my country and to show what Iraqis are really like.  I wanted people to know what it’s like for children to have no hope.  I wanted them to know what it means for a father to work for hours just to feed his family.  I wanted them to know what it is like to have to flee from home….  And I hope, one day, to help Iraq and the rest of the world walk together towards peace and happiness.”

The thing in the diary that struck me most was Thura’s indignation that, after the war, she had to wear a headscarf in public in order to be safe.  Although she is a Muslim, under Saddam Hussein’s regime she was able to dress as she wished.  How awful it would be if overthrowing the old regime has made the lives of Iraqi women more oppressed.

In fact, Thura’s life got worse in many ways.  It was no longer safe to be out on the streets of Baghdad at night.  Women had to cover their heads in public.  Electricity and water and other basic services operated only sporadically.  Hospitals didn’t have medical supplies.  There was talk of not letting women study.  A friend and a family member died during the war, the relative hit by a cluster bomb when he was trying to aid wounded people.

Despite the war, Thura was thrilled that her diary opened a way for her to go to America.  She was given a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania.  She says of America, “that country is full of people from all over the world, with all sorts of religions and cultures and ways of thinking….  America is a place where there are all kinds of possibilities and a real understanding of the concept of freedom.”

After reading this diary, I can only hope that some of that freedom can come to the people of Iraq.  As Thura shows us, they really are just like us.

There are comments about this book posted on the Book Discussion Forum.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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