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drinking tea with mittens on
4.0 out of 5 starsalmost didn't read this
Reviewed in the United States on March 15, 2021
after reading some of the reviews, i almost didn't order the book because i wasn't interested in just another funny ha-ha book of adventure. but i did order the book because i hoped for deeper insight into this region. glad i did! tony travels through the area not as a tourist and takes what i felt were some great risks to truly meet up with people who could help him really understand the region and the people. now i am off to read more of his work and am sorry he is no longer with us.
5.0 out of 5 starsAbbot and Costello, Where Are You?
Reviewed in the United States on July 17, 2013
Tony Horwitz has created a miasma that can only be compared to an Abbot and Costello movie from the 1940s. There's dancing girls, strange snakes in bags, sand homes reaching into the sky and furtive spies watching everyone as they run here and there with long swords threatening poor Lou Costello.
And, as the two Americans try to hide, try to find something good to eat and lose their passports once again, over steaming sand is the photo of Allah or is it Saddam Hussein, urging on his hatchet men who drive crazy cabs, crazy airplanes and beat-up tanks in their quest to prove their manhood and their love of God.
But, back to reality, it's only the young thirtyish Tony who's our guide through the Middle East. We're by his side for hours as he tries to get away from Khartoum or Baghdad or Tehran. Poor Tony is trying to get a good news story but all he can find is propaganda and really, really bad bootleg gin.
If you thought you'd like to visit the Casbah after watching one of those old Bud Abbot movies, well forget it. Those sabers seemed funny in celluloid, but up close and personal they can ream you out pretty good. Tony Horwitz escaped many times from scrapes with death, and we wonder why he kept going back for more. We certainly don't want to visit the desert ever again. But we might just watch another black and white movie from the vault of A & C classics. HELP!
Reviewed in the United States on February 15, 2008
BAGHDAD WITHOUT A MAP is a series of articles Tony Horwitz wrote while trying to spark a freelance journalism career in the Middle East. The title is somewhat misleading as the articles cover a wide spectrum of Middle Eastern countries.
Horwitz does not always have an assignment as was the case when he visited Yemen, one of the most unusual countries in the book. Almost everyone in Yemen is high on Qat, a hallucinogenic shrub that the inhabitants chew like tobacco. Horwitz, who's always game for anything, samples the shrub, losing the feeling in his arms and legs when he does.
One of the most enlightening episodes was when Horwitz got an assignment to cover the tanker war on the "Strait of Hoummos." Horwitz hitches a ride on a sixty-foot Bombay boat. On board, Horwitz met the ship's engineer, a man named Jesudasyn "with the unflinching bluntness of a four-year-old." Jesudasyn wanted to know if it was true that men and women lived in America without getting married, and, if so, how could the women still be virgins when they married. In India the woman must be a virgin. They go on to discuss reincarnation and the use of condoms. This conversation goes on for all of two pages, but with culture meeting culture, there was enough material for a book of its own.
Cairo, Egypt, was almost a home base for Horwitz and his wife, noted author Geraldine Brooks. There's a concept called "Malesh" in Egypt, loosely translated to mean "whatever." Even new building in Cairo begin to fall apart almost immediately as there isn't much maintenance. There are constant blackouts and the elevators don't work in the apartment buildings. The idea that you couldn't do anything about these inconveniences anyway was prevalent in Egyptian society. After awhile even Horwitz began to experience "Malesh."
Most of the places Horwitz visited, such as The Sudan and Libya, were pretty desolate places, but then there was the Arab Emirates, one of the richest places on earth where the natives have free health care, free education, and an assurance of a job, if they want one. Guest workers outnumber natives five to one. Dubai's port was "duty free, regulation free, everything free." Compared to The Sudan, Dubai would be Heaven, The Sudan hell.
Tony Horwitz won the Pulitzer for his travelogue style writing. Other writers might emulate his ability to communicate with the native peoples, despite his inability to speak the language in some cases.
5.0 out of 5 starsA powerful insight into one of the world's most troubled regions
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 7, 2014
The Middle East is rarely, if ever, out of the News. And it is rarely well reported either. The Western Press sway drunkenly between pro-Arab anti-Israeli liberal tendencies learned at college, and anti-Arab pro-Western biases promoted by their governments during the many times of Western-dominated Middle East wars. These equally poor and common sides of weak modern journalism fade when compared to this strong journalistic account of many years of travel across the region.
Everywhere is treated to the strangeness and familiarity test. Global humanity shines through, blackened by local enculturisation. To those bred up on the petty newsiness of the BBC, Huffington Post and Fox News, this book comes like a spicy meal after a dull ham sandwich.
The contrasts and contradictions of Middle East are presented wonderfully well. And the Israelis don't get away either, presented as alien life forms in a region struggling to escape - or not - from a backwards velocity towards the 7th century of Mohammad. Racisms and hatred that read like a European history book. Religion intolerance and pretence are familiar to Westerners also.
Overall there is a feeling of impossibility. Surely this cannot go on forever? And in the few decades since the book was written we have watched in gobsmacked horror as Baghdad got worse, Iran didn't get better, Gaza fell apart, Egypt rocked, Syria crumbled, Libya disappeared and Lebanon withered.
If you want to understand beyond the terse and repetitive headlines of the daily news, read this book. Get into the life of Arabia and beyond. If it only makes you doubt the Western news media and stop making your own impertinent commentaries on the Middle East, Mr Horwitz will have done us all a service.