Sisters in War
A Story of Love, Family, and Survival in the New IraqBook - 2009
On the heels of the invasion, twenty-two-year-old Zia accepts a job inside the U.S. headquarters in Baghdad, trusting that democracy will shield her burgeoning romance with an American contractor from the disapproval of her fellow Iraqis. But as resistance to the U.S. occupation intensifies, Zia and her sister, Nunu, a university student, are targeted by Islamic insurgents and find themselves trapped between their hopes for a new country and the violent reality of a misguided war.
Asquith sets their struggle against the broader U.S. efforts to bring women's rights to Iraq, weaving the sisters' story with those of Manal, a Palestinian American women's rights activist, and Heather, a U.S. army reservist, who work together to found Iraq's first women's center. After one of their female colleagues is gunned down on a highway, Manal and Heather must decide whether they can keep fighting for Iraqi women if it means risking their own lives.
In Sisters in War , Christina Asquith introduces the reader to four women who dare to stand up for their rights in the most desperate circumstances. With compassion and grace, she vividly reveals the plight of women living and serving in Iraq and offers us a vision of how women's rights and Islam might be reconciled.
From the critics
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3.5 stars for the storytelling aspect. The characters grew on me and by the halfway point, I was heavily invested in the story of Zia, Nunu and Mamina (who constitute about 40% of the book). I didnt care much for Manal, but Heather was another character I liked.
2 stars for the books message. It was a bit too preachy, especially when describing Manal's struggles. I appreciate the candor of the story and how it tried to show the frustrations of the characters, but one point was far too belabored: the ineptness of the CPA and the military to reconstruct Iraq. I got it--America "blew it" and after toppling Saddam, we "let the situation get out of control". However, other than Zia's story, you are left with little to no understanding of the causes of the rising insurgency other than "America didnt do enough". What about Iranian influence, and other instigators? Somehow you are left feeling that America is responsible for all the chaos that ensued, and while that is convenient and in many respects true, it is way too one-dimensional. It left me feeling as though the author did not do enough independent research into the insurgency and its roots.
However, in the tales of Nunu and Zia, there is plenty of acknowledgement of the evils of the insurgency, though still far too little acknowledgement of the brave Iraqi and American soldiers who were fighting them every day. A favorite part was when Nunu is holed up in her house, when the fighting was at its worst:
"Despite the death toll and the horrible cruelty of the [insurgent] attack, there was little coverage on Western channels. On the Arab channels, there was none of the outrage expressed if the [American] troops accidentally killed even one Iraqi. Nunu could never understand why the foreign press was so much more interested in the few crimes of their own soldiers, than the much worse atrocities committed by the Islamic fundamentalists. Nunu and Mamina personally knew dozens of innocent Iraqis killed by the irhabeen, the terrorists, but no one who had been harmed by Western forces."
This kind of honest reporting shows through a few times, but it is swallowed up by a far greater drumbeat of how America failed. The Surge and the Awakening is then portrayed almost as an inevitability, as opposed to a brave uprising of Iraqis and courageous second effort by the Americans.
Anyway, I should mention my bias (former American Soldier deployed to Iraq).
This book deserves to be read if for no other reason than the point of view it shows in the story of Zia. There are many books about the war, but few from this key perspective. Asquith does Zia's tale justice. The Manal and Heather storylines are less of a contribution. My recommendation might be to read just the Zia portions, and skip chapters on Manal and Heather. It wont affect the tale, as they are not interconnected.
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