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Thura’s Diary Describes Life in War-Time Iraq

September 5, 2009

Thura’s Diary by Thura al-Windawi
published by Viking March 8, 2004

This is the journal of a nineteen-year-old girl living in Baghdad. Before the arrival of U.S. troops in March, 2003, she is a pharmacy student at her local college. She and her family have lived with hardship due to UN-imposed economic sanctions. Thura’s sister Aula, who is diabetic, has difficulty getting insulin. But for the most part they have lived an ordinary, comfortable middle-class life.

As this diary opens, the residents of Baghdad are watching the vise tighten. U.S. President George W. Bush has given Saddam Hussein and his sons 24 hours to resign and avert an invasion. Demonstrators on the streets chant “Stop the war!” and many people are scrambling to leave the city. The wealthiest people are able to get away from Baghdad, while the poor are left behind.

Soon Baghdad is being bombed day and night. The family leaves the windows open, despite the cold outside, to avoid shattered glass, and Thura and her sisters huddle under blankets, shivering with cold and fear. Hundreds of civilians are killed, either by American bombs or Iraqi anti-aircraft guns. People bury their loved ones in their yards, because they can’t reach the graveyards in this war-torn city. The Iraqi government also burns enormous amounts of oil, hoping the smoke will make it more difficult for American bombers to hit their targets, and breathing is painfully difficult.

For a while, Thura and her family retreat to her grandmother’s house in the country. It is a dramatic adjustment for Thura. She is used to city life, where women are relatively free and are encouraged to get an education. In the country, women are raised only to be wives and mothers, and they have to keep their heads down in public and cover themselves in the traditional Muslim manner.

Gradually, society unravels, Iraqis begin killing one other and looting each other’s homes and even in Baghdad, women begin to lose the freedoms they’ve enjoyed.

Women who don’t wear the headscarves are being kidnapped by men who think their behaviour is disrespectful to our religion. It’s much safer to wear a headscarf; that way you don’t draw any attention to yourself. People are having their cards stolen, and there are even children carrying weapons and fooling around with them, as if they were acting out an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude van Damme film. There are ten and twelve-year-olds wandering about with machine guns, and the only thing that stops them is if an American comes along and takes their weapons away. (p. 97)

I found this book both fascinating and moving. Much of this war, for me, has been a series of superficial images. Here in the U.S., the men and women who serve in the military, along with their families, have borne the sacrifice for all of us. I have been troubled by our media’s coverage of the war. We have seen neither the extremes of good or evil. We haven’t been permitted to see our dead soldiers being carried away, presumably to avoid the “low morale” this caused during the Vietnam War. We’ve been kept at a distance from the suffering of the Iraqi people, as well as the suffering of our own soldiers. We haven’t really seen our government’s acts of violence, nor have we seen our soldiers’ daily acts of courage and kindness.

Thura’s Diary gave me a glimpse of all this, and let me see, hear, and feel her experiences. I saw the events that unfolded in 2003 from a different angle and experienced the humanity of both Iraqi civilians and American and British soldiers.

I highly recommend this book for middle grade readers and teens as well as adults. There is a wealth of opportunities for discussion here, about contemporary history, war, and human experiences. I’d like to share this with my family, perhaps paired with a few other books about these events — perhaps something from the perspective of American or British soldiers who served in this war. Any suggestions?

Read another review of this book at Teen Book Review.

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