Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia - Tony Horwitz

I can strike 'see the cradle of the world' off my bucket list. In all honesty, it was only there as a fanciful thought in the first place. Experiencing the sands of the ancient, seeing the ruins of Babylon, touching the wailing wall, being jostled in an open air market steeped in centuries of tradition? Sounds pretty inspiring.


The reality is that I'm not made of the brave, and my adventure gene doesn't function as well as it did when I was much younger. Even then, I was only cautiously excited about things far out of my comfort zone.


But, I can read. I can live vicariously. I can be moved by others courageous leaps of faith, and sometimes, insane decisions.


Enter Tony Horwitz.


Baghdad without a Map was the selection for this month's bookclub otherwise it wouldn't have landed on my nightstand. It took me about 18 days to work my way through it and not because it was boring or uninteresting (it was the complete opposite), but because I would be motivated to seek more information about the locations that Horwitz landed. 


This book reads like a travelogue but with a  journalistic bent. Horwitz, living in Cairo as a freelance writer while his wife, Geraldine Brooks, is on long assignment, shares his experiences as he travels to find 'the story' that can get him paid.


His travels and experiences leave out few places. From Libya to Iran, from Lebanon to the Sudan, Horwitz writes about civil war, famine, police states, belly dancing, and bitter strife with a certain amount of scholarly curiosity all while profiling some everyday people along the way. And while he lambasted some areas for their backwards and illogical government, he exuded a calm that was sometimes baffling.


While the book is cleverly put together by drawing out all the caricatures and lighter fare early on in places like Cairo and Yemen before delving into war torn areas in Iraq, Sudan and Lebanon, I had to wonder at the actual order of his travels -  they aren't dated.


For example, taking a harebrained risk of driving the most unreliable vehicle I'd ever heard of into the mountains of Yemen to talk to arms dealers (remember, this is 1990. No cell phones or other means of emergency communication) might have been less risky to him if he did that AFTER surviving shelling and other close encounters of war. But that's just a theory of mine.



Because this was chosen by our history buff in bookclub, I expected it to be all dry, text book like history, and it wasn't. I'm reading more Horwitz, that's for sure.