A Stranger in Your Own City: Travels in the Middle East’s Long War by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

I had recently caught up on my reading and I decided to see what was new. Something on the Middle East was glaring at me so I decided to give it a chance.

A Stranger in Your Own City is a memoir about a man who grew up in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. It doesn’t stay on this track long as it moves at a good clip and goes quickly into Desert Storm and the aftereffects of the 1991 war. He was a deserter of the Iraqi army, studied architecture and stumbled almost by accident into photo journalism where he quickly picked up a job with The Guardian.

This isn’t a history book but rather a memoir. The writer does wear his emotions on his sleeve and the fact that he worked with The Guardian for so long tells on his biases. When referencing President Bush he often uses derogatory vocabulary such as “Bush and Co.” and other like-shrouded insults. Likewise he blames only Bush for the war in Iraq in 2003 and not the world intelligence community which is an interesting perspective. But the author does work for The Guardian and is writing a memoir, not a history book so such perspectives ought to be permitted.

Still, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad does view Iraq as his home and comes with those natural thoughts. Instead of using appropriate terms, such as terrorists, for some groups, he would instead offer euphemisms like “resistance fighters,” “insurgents” or other words to step around the obvious. But he does have clashes with Al-Qaeda and mentions death squads especially later in the war and the aftermath of Saddam Hussein.

A Stranger in Your Own City suffers from not being specific enough. By the book’s end, we haven’t learned much about the author on a personal level, there’s nothing direct here and it could’ve been written by almost anyone in Iraq at the time. The author brings the reader no new information and he does it in a typical boring newspaper reporter writing style. One of my main notes were that the book read like a long newspaper article which never ends.

The book can be interesting in parts but the author speeds through anything of remote interest. Almost no time is spent on the Iran-Iraq War of the 80s, we see a glimpse of the 1991 aftermath and how he dealt with that and he only focuses on a few pointed years which makes the entire book feel disconnected. The author would’ve been better served to have written a book on those other less covered and more interesting events of which there is far less literature written about them. As it stands, A Stranger in Your City is just another war-torn memoir in a world already filled with them.

The Life of Ezra Pound by Noel Stock

The Life of Ezra Pound by Noel Stock reveals the interesting character and life of Ezra Pound. Pound is perhaps the most influential person in modern writing and certainly modern poetry. While Hemingway is often credited with the Iceberg Theory, much of that influence came primarily from Pound and then took off with the rest of the Lost Generation.

Stock did have a personal relationship with Pound, writing to Pound while he was in the American asylum. Therefore, while there isn’t a bibliography, there are likely many personal stories Stock relates. Other information is relayed through a Chicago style and is nicely reported.

While there is plenty on Pound’s life, his involvement with Fascism and some of his later life, Stock focuses more on discussing his suppositions on Pound’s early poems and his later influential works which would become the building blocks for making Pound a known name. Stock adds in other interesting details such as those involving Pound’s writing philosophy in narrowing down what is to be said, what is important and removing the excess verbiage.

As for information on Pound’s life, it is certainly there but this isn’t wholly a personal biography.

The writing is also superb and highly detailed for the content it focuses on. This would be a great primer to get into Pound before going deeper into Pound’s personal life and his involvement with fascism. To get started, The Life is Ezra Pound is certainly a stellar beginning point.