Ali's Reviews > Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad: The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship

Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad by May Witwit
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Jun 08, 10

Read from June 05 to 08, 2010

A sign of the modern world perhaps that the book of letters has become the book of emails. The existence of this book is entirely due to Bee Rowlatt's plan to get May and her husband out of Iraq. Considering the vast differences between these two women and their lives, it is touching just how close they became - the friendship which developed between the two families and the things that Bee and her husband Justin did to help May and Ali is quite an inspirational story. During the course of these emails - we discover what life for May was like in Iraq. The reality of living in a war zone, with barely any electricity, having explosions go off outside your home, and have your name appear on a list of academics to be assassinated. I was also forced to reconsider some of my thoughts about Saddaam - we are so used to hearing the western view of this. Life for Bee meanwhile is the life a busy London mum, and journalist (when not on maternity leave). She wrestles with the PTA and organising summer fairs, baking cakes, and rows with her husband. All these things she talks about to May in their often lengthy emails.
It is obvious that at the beginning at least these communications were private with no thought whatsoever that they would be published. Although the emails continued to contain a lot of really private details, I suspect that once Bee had had the idea for the book, the journalist in her helped to shape the emails in a way that would make them more readable - that sounds very cynical of me - and I don't mean it in a bad way - I just think that it was an inevitable part of this extraordinary process. A really good read - I came to really lie these women and applaud them for what they achieved.
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