Paperback, 208 pages
Published August 1st 2009 by Haymarket Books
“Hope came yesterday and I don’t know why it came.
Did it come to say goodbye? Or did it come to say it was satisfied?”
IraqiGirl is a compilation of a series of blog posts by an Iraqi girl living through the civil war and American occupation of Iraq. It spans about four years and tells in sparse, sometimes grammatically incorrect English, the daily life of a girl whose world has fallen apart. Hadiya, an assumed name for safety purposes, is the titular Iraqi girl through whose eyes we see the tragedies that befall the civilian population of Iraq during the war. She is only fifteen at the start of the book and like any normal fifteen year old, she is interested in TV, the internet and arguing with her sister Najma. She reads Harry Potter and plays with her niece Aya.
But she cannot go out of her house, for days at a time, and going to school is courting death because who knows when the next bomb will blow, when the American soldiers will decide to shoot. She writes about the indignities her father faces at the hands of the American soldiers and she wonders who she is because the constant death and explosions seems to be stealing what little of the person she had thought she was.
The book is not easy to read. Especially if you live in the West and have accepted wholly the parochial justifications given for the Iraqi occupation. Some comments reprinted in the book show that Hadiya faced many anonymous readers who left comments about how she ought to be grateful to the Americans. Hadiya speaks more than once about how she wishes she could show the English speaking world, the North Americans, the struggles of her daily life. With childish candour, she speaks of her conflicting feelings for Saddam. “The Americans made me love him” she states in one blog post because though life was not easy under his rule, it wasn’t the hell they experienced under American occupation with no electricity for days and only dirty water to drink.
She mentions twice how under Saddam, her family was able to go out for ice cream after midnight while at the moment of writing, 6 pm is considered late due to curfews. Juxtaposed with her anguish about the destruction of her country, her passion for studying for her ceaseless exams made me wonder about the endurance of human nature. Hadiya talks about receiving high grades that allow her to pick between colleges she wants to attend. She finally decides to become a pharmacist. She defends her religion starkly and wholeheartedly. But through every post she writes is a skein of tragedy because to her, she and her family are already victims, the only thing left to do is die.
The book is valuable for different reasons and in different ways for both adults and children. Hadiya’s experiences are a wake up call for those of us snug in our comfortable and relatively safe homes in North America. Her words paint a very different picture than the ones we see on TV or read about in in the newspapers. The book is certainly not great literature but what makes it priceless is its ability to bring to life a slice of a world otherwise veiled to us. We do not hear the screams of the innocent people who die in the wars going around the world but Hadiya’s collected blog posts ensure that we can, at least, hear the echoes of them. I recommend this book to everyone simply because though we may not have the power to change anything in the world except ourselves, we can still be aware. Being aware is the very first step.
Life is a game and it’s so clear that we’re losing it.