A Hundred and One Days : A Baghdad Journal.Asne Seierstad.

 

Book review by Noel Hamel

 

School history was all dates and kings and castles.The sort of people we meet in everyday lives in the street and at work were invisible.Not so different from the way many contemporary events are reported, such as the 2003 Iraq invasion.There is much about Saddam Husein, George Bush and Tony Blair, yet the realities, the pain, suffering and hardship, the successes, the humiliations, joys and sadnesses are the tangible experiences of humbler people.

Asne Seierstadís bestseller records her experiences as a journalist in Baghdad over 101 days from January to April 2003.The story spans from before invasion under the despotic regime, which imposed the tightest restriction on foreign journalists, through the nerve-wracking period of bombing and invasion, the collapse of the Saddam regime and law and order, the relief of Iraqis, at last able to speak freely after 30-odd years, and the despair at the bloodshed and devastation of war.Itís a refreshing change to hear personal voices telling their stories in these pages, after reading so much about the politics, deceit, subversion and cynicism of the bigwigs who affected the fate of millions, and for what?

With courage and determination Asne pursued her investigations during those momentous events which though the actions of elected leaders entangled us all and threatens stability in many parts of the world.People remain divided about the rights and wrongs as ever more ugly facts about the conflict surface.Bush supporters point to Saddamís outrages and vice versa.Others condemn both Ė a view hard to fault on reading Asneís account.Many ordinary people, some less innocent than others, got caught in the middle!

With its insights into the realities for people caught up by the political and military gamesmanship, this book is a good read.And reading it I wondered how far we have progressed since the cataclysmic First World War, which some historians describe as a catastrophe visited on ordinary people by disagreements between the crowned heads of Europe.The stories of the guides and translators, the wounded, the bereaved, the disillusioned, the relieved and the humiliated provoke humility and compassion.Iraqis resent invasion and occupation, and distrust Bush, yet the collapse of Saddamís regime unleashed a flood tide of hurt and resentment pent up for a generation.

Asne tells the story of the schoolboy who told a joke about emigration and Saddam Hussein, in which the endless queue for exit papers evaporated when Saddam himself decided to emigrate.People decided to stay after all!The price paid for the joke was that the security services Ďdisappearedí the whole family overnight.Another tale concerned the GI who thought signing up had been the dumbest thing he could have done.He didnít want to be in Iraq, and planned to become an opera singer as soon as he could get out.There are many more personal accounts and stories.Warm and affirming.