website statistics Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad: The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship - PDF Books Online
Hot Best Seller

Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad: The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship

Availability: Ready to download

A London mum and Iraqi teacher should have nothing in common. Yet now, despite their differences, they're the firmest of friends . . . Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit is a touching and poignant portrait of an unlikely friendship. Would you brave gun-toting militias for a cut and blow dry? May's a tough-talking, hard-smoking, lecturer in Eng A London mum and Iraqi teacher should have nothing in common. Yet now, despite their differences, they're the firmest of friends . . . Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit is a touching and poignant portrait of an unlikely friendship. Would you brave gun-toting militias for a cut and blow dry? May's a tough-talking, hard-smoking, lecturer in English. She's also an Iraqi from a Sunni-Shi'ite background living in Baghdad, dodging bullets before breakfast, bargaining for high heels in bombed-out bazaars and battling through blockades to reach her class of Jane Austen-studying girls. Bee, on the other hand, is a London mum of three, busy fighting off PTA meetings and chicken pox, dealing with dead cats and generally juggling work and family while squabbling with her globe-trotting husband over the socks he leaves lying around the house. They should have nothing in common. But when a simple email brings them together, they discover a friendship that overcomes all their differences of culture, religion and age. Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad is the story of two women who share laughter and tears, and swap their confidences, dreams and fears. And, between the grenades, the gossip, the jokes and the secrets, they also hatch an ingenious plan to help May escape the bombings of Baghdad . . . Bee Rowlatt is a former show-girl turned BBC World Service journalist. A mother of three and would-be do-gooder, she can find keeping her career going while caring for her three daughters (and husband) pretty tough, even in leafy North London. May Witwit is an Iraqi expert in Chaucer and sender of emails depicting kittens in fancy dress. She is prepared to face every hazard imaginable to make that all-important hairdresser's appointment.


Compare

A London mum and Iraqi teacher should have nothing in common. Yet now, despite their differences, they're the firmest of friends . . . Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit is a touching and poignant portrait of an unlikely friendship. Would you brave gun-toting militias for a cut and blow dry? May's a tough-talking, hard-smoking, lecturer in Eng A London mum and Iraqi teacher should have nothing in common. Yet now, despite their differences, they're the firmest of friends . . . Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit is a touching and poignant portrait of an unlikely friendship. Would you brave gun-toting militias for a cut and blow dry? May's a tough-talking, hard-smoking, lecturer in English. She's also an Iraqi from a Sunni-Shi'ite background living in Baghdad, dodging bullets before breakfast, bargaining for high heels in bombed-out bazaars and battling through blockades to reach her class of Jane Austen-studying girls. Bee, on the other hand, is a London mum of three, busy fighting off PTA meetings and chicken pox, dealing with dead cats and generally juggling work and family while squabbling with her globe-trotting husband over the socks he leaves lying around the house. They should have nothing in common. But when a simple email brings them together, they discover a friendship that overcomes all their differences of culture, religion and age. Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad is the story of two women who share laughter and tears, and swap their confidences, dreams and fears. And, between the grenades, the gossip, the jokes and the secrets, they also hatch an ingenious plan to help May escape the bombings of Baghdad . . . Bee Rowlatt is a former show-girl turned BBC World Service journalist. A mother of three and would-be do-gooder, she can find keeping her career going while caring for her three daughters (and husband) pretty tough, even in leafy North London. May Witwit is an Iraqi expert in Chaucer and sender of emails depicting kittens in fancy dress. She is prepared to face every hazard imaginable to make that all-important hairdresser's appointment.

30 review for Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad: The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship

  1. 4 out of 5

    Zain Mirza

    The book's title is slightly misleading, as there is barely any talk of Jane Austen or literature for that matter. It contains nothing but a three year long exchange of emails between two women in opposite ends of the world, one an Iraqi English literature professor (May) in Baghdad and the other (Bee) a journalist with the BBC in London. It seemed dull at first, and as my sister put it when she read the book, intrusive, as though you were violating the women's privacy by reading their personal The book's title is slightly misleading, as there is barely any talk of Jane Austen or literature for that matter. It contains nothing but a three year long exchange of emails between two women in opposite ends of the world, one an Iraqi English literature professor (May) in Baghdad and the other (Bee) a journalist with the BBC in London. It seemed dull at first, and as my sister put it when she read the book, intrusive, as though you were violating the women's privacy by reading their personal emails. But then you get caught into their lives by witnessing the blossoming of a true friendship and the bond that develops between them and you're struck by the stark contrast of their lives. In almost every email, May talks about death, insecurity and instability in the city but never fails to add words of love to her 'sister' (Bee) and her 'nieces' (Bee's daughters) and her longing to see them. Bee, on the other hand, talks about the joys and trials of motherhood, her work and her husband while asking probing questions as to life in Baghdad before and after the US invasion, May's work and her students, her husband's family and Islam, while at the same time offering comforting and compassionate words to ease May's troubles. What I liked a lot about the book is that May answers Bee's questions intelligently and honestly, helping dissipate any stereotypes the reader may have about Islam, by firmly establishing the fact that Islam and tribal law, (the latter which governs most regions in Iraq) are completely separate of each other, even though most people consider them to be synonymous. You're also struck by the strength of the Iraqi people who having been subject to so much adversity for the past 30 years, still stay rooted in their faith, traditions and culture despite the curfews, bombs and bullets. In the face of May's trials, Bee's complaints of her daughter's 'weeing' may seem trivial but I think it is the normalcy of her friend's emails that strikes a chord with her, helping her to get through her daily routine. Similarly, the sadness of some of May's emails touches Bee and she realizes how small her afflictions are in comparison and attempts to do everything she can to get May and her husband out of Iraq. I would have loved to read more about May's classes in the university, but all in all a good read, if you can bear to read May's horrifying (some eye-witness) accounts of the terror reigning in Baghdad. You really feel for the civilians living there stuck in the inferno and wonder how people can be so merciless to their fellow human beings, for no reason whatsoever except for a difference in faith or political opinion.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    I really really loved this book! Bee is an English journalist working for the BBC World Service and May is an Iraqi university lecturer. Bee first contacted May to ask if she would give an interview about living conditions in Baghdad since the invasion of the US forces. They quickly became friends and this book is their collection of emails - back and forth, starting in January 2005 until October 2008. Bee is a mother of two daughters, pregnant with her third, living and working in London. She is I really really loved this book! Bee is an English journalist working for the BBC World Service and May is an Iraqi university lecturer. Bee first contacted May to ask if she would give an interview about living conditions in Baghdad since the invasion of the US forces. They quickly became friends and this book is their collection of emails - back and forth, starting in January 2005 until October 2008. Bee is a mother of two daughters, pregnant with her third, living and working in London. She is married to Justin and lives a fairly comfortable life, with lots of holidays, friends and parties. Meanwhile, May is coping with life in occupied Baghdad. Married to her second husband and alienated from his family due to religious beliefs. Coping with days with no electricity, bombs, shootings, murders, house searches, no fuel, no freedom and no hope. The contrast between the two women's lives is immense - yet they become firm friends, calling each other 'sister' and able to talk about anything at all. May and her husband Ali are desperate to leave Iraq, they want to start a new life together, away from war. Over the course of the three years of correspondence we follow their battle with authority to gain visas and enough money to see their dream through. Every obstacle imaginable is put in their way. There are times when both women become very despondent and depressed, but there are also times of laughter and joy. This is a wonderfully well put together book. In e-mail form, honest and no holds barred. It is hard to imagine just what difference the US invasion of Iraq made to the ordinary people living there. May talks about life under the regime of Saddam and how it was often not so bad, and how people have suffered far more since the invasion. She is not condoning Saddam's regime, but life was easier and not so dangerous. The contrast of Bee's busy London life, bringing up small children whilst working in stressful job is often a welcome distraction from the horrors of life in Baghdad. This is the true story of a most unlikely friendship, emotional, touching, funny - a wonderful read that I enjoyed very much.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    As you can imagine, this book held special attraction for me (I love Jane Austen AND I'm in Baghdad!). The book is written in the form of emails between Bee Rowlatt, a employee with BBC and May Witwit, an Iraqi citizen. (Epistolary books are AWESOME!) The book was light on Jane Austen and heavy on May & Bee's opinions on the war. Despite that, I found both women compelling. I giggled at Bee's trials of raising three young daughters and sympathized with May over the frequent sandstorms. May's side As you can imagine, this book held special attraction for me (I love Jane Austen AND I'm in Baghdad!). The book is written in the form of emails between Bee Rowlatt, a employee with BBC and May Witwit, an Iraqi citizen. (Epistolary books are AWESOME!) The book was light on Jane Austen and heavy on May & Bee's opinions on the war. Despite that, I found both women compelling. I giggled at Bee's trials of raising three young daughters and sympathized with May over the frequent sandstorms. May's side of the story is a little darker- May's perspective on the war in Iraq is very personal and very negative. Even though I live in Baghdad, I'm not sure how most Iraqis feel. I talked to an Iraqi shopkeeper today who was arguing for continued US presence. So opinions about the War in Iraq are just as varied in Iraq as they are in the US. May's opinion of Islam and women's rights is intriguing and her emotional description of meeting Saddam Hussein is incredible. I recommend this book if you don't mind a little anti-US feeling or if you are genuinely interested in an Iraqi perspective on the war. If you are looking for a conversation about Jane Austen, perhaps you should look elsewhere- Ms. Austen is mentioned a handful of times in 350+ pages.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Girl

    A very interesting and occassionally poignant book, whose title does it a big disservice.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ali

    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 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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book at Bedtime: 2005. Bee, a London journalist, contacts May, an Iraqi academic, about life in her battle-scarred country. Neither foresees the dramatic events that will change their lives. Episode 1 - Getting to know you. Episode 2 - Secrets. Episode 3 - An Escape. Episode 4 - Getting it right. Episode 5 - A House in Chawton May ..... Souad Faress Bee ..... Fenella Woolgar Ali ..... Zubin Varla Justin ..... Stephen Hogan Eva/Ayasha ..... Deeivya Meir Militia Man/Official/Minister ..... From BBC Radio 4 - Book at Bedtime: 2005. Bee, a London journalist, contacts May, an Iraqi academic, about life in her battle-scarred country. Neither foresees the dramatic events that will change their lives. Episode 1 - Getting to know you. Episode 2 - Secrets. Episode 3 - An Escape. Episode 4 - Getting it right. Episode 5 - A House in Chawton May ..... Souad Faress Bee ..... Fenella Woolgar Ali ..... Zubin Varla Justin ..... Stephen Hogan Eva/Ayasha ..... Deeivya Meir Militia Man/Official/Minister ..... Peter Polycarpou Newsnight director ..... Jonathan Forbes Lawyer/Octavia ..... Elaine Claxton Director..... Peter Kavanagh. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0145xz7

  7. 4 out of 5

    Valerie Hedges

    Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit The story we didn’t hear in the news bulletins from Iraq, of daily life and survival, and one woman’s journey to safety in the UK helped by her friend…. May Witwit is an Iraqi Academic and Lecturer of English, an expert in Chaucer and Jane Austen. Educated in the UK, where on her arrival she barely spoke English, she had returned to Iraq still in her teens and lived through Sanctions, Invasion and war. Bee is a BBC World Service jo Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit The story we didn’t hear in the news bulletins from Iraq, of daily life and survival, and one woman’s journey to safety in the UK helped by her friend…. May Witwit is an Iraqi Academic and Lecturer of English, an expert in Chaucer and Jane Austen. Educated in the UK, where on her arrival she barely spoke English, she had returned to Iraq still in her teens and lived through Sanctions, Invasion and war. Bee is a BBC World Service journalist and mum living in London. She made contact with May, when looking for Iraqis who spoke English and could tell of how daily life was in Iraq. A friendship grew which gave May the chance to be rescued and Bee the chance to give the ultimate gift of friendship…. to save the life of her friend While the West continues to be heavily involved in military action in the Middle East, and the lessons of Iraq is a subject for reflection, the book Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad is a testament to what we should seriously consider and never forget before action is taken…the huge effect on the lives of ordinary civilians. I myself owe a huge debt to Bee, as I was Mays neighbour and went to school with her when she lived in London… It isn’t often that two 51 year old women who were neighbours and school friends aged 11, meet up again in London on a sunny May afternoon after almost 40 years, and when one asks the other “What have you been doing, what has happened to you…?” She knows that it is a daft question really and the answer is too harrowing to imagine for the answer lies in the reply “Read my book!” Without the story of this friendship as told in the book, through emails Bee and May sent to each other, that meeting would quite likely have never taken place… This book made me smile at the sheer power of female friendship but it also made me cry, or perhaps especially me because May is my childhood friend and reading the book was how I had to catch up with her life since I last saw her...reading it puts lots of daily life problems into a different perspective.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Montgomery

    I really enjoyed hearing what the Iraqi woman had to say--it's the first real account from an Iraqi academic I've heard. The conditions they lived in sound appalling and I really had no idea what life in Iraq was like for the educated middle class. I did find it hypocritical that she blamed the Americans and claimed Saddam wasn't that bad despite his murdering millions of his own countrymen, but I can see how on the ground it seems that way. What really took away from the book were the letters wr I really enjoyed hearing what the Iraqi woman had to say--it's the first real account from an Iraqi academic I've heard. The conditions they lived in sound appalling and I really had no idea what life in Iraq was like for the educated middle class. I did find it hypocritical that she blamed the Americans and claimed Saddam wasn't that bad despite his murdering millions of his own countrymen, but I can see how on the ground it seems that way. What really took away from the book were the letters written by the English woman, Bee. Her response to May's letters of chaos and destruction and depression was often one paragraph empathy and support, 3 paragraphs about how tough her life is, too (her husband wants another baby, but she's so busy with 3 already! It's horrible!). She comes off sounding selfish and almost disrespectful of May, although I don't doubt she cares for her. I think what explains it is that ultimately this book was written as a way to get May out of Iraq; it was basically a fundraiser, so maybe including letters from both sides was part of the sales-pitch. Which is too bad, because a book with more about May would have been amazing.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Wanda Baldridge

    I haven't finished yet because it's so easy to put it down. Although, it's interesting when I'm reading it. Does that make sense? Right now I think Bee is a spoiled brat and it irritates me that she writes to May about her holidays, etc. when May could be killed any day. Does it seem the same to anyone else? I haven't finished yet because it's so easy to put it down. Although, it's interesting when I'm reading it. Does that make sense? Right now I think Bee is a spoiled brat and it irritates me that she writes to May about her holidays, etc. when May could be killed any day. Does it seem the same to anyone else?

  10. 5 out of 5

    Becky R.

    Seems like a pretty pertinent read after all of the immigration upset. When you think about the number of displaced people from the Middle East, searching for a safe place to land, it can be staggering. Regardless of a person's politics surrounding this subject, this story really shows how people can unite in purpose and in friendship, regardless of country or culture. Seems like a pretty pertinent read after all of the immigration upset. When you think about the number of displaced people from the Middle East, searching for a safe place to land, it can be staggering. Regardless of a person's politics surrounding this subject, this story really shows how people can unite in purpose and in friendship, regardless of country or culture.

  11. 5 out of 5

    okyrhoe

    As a book based on email exchanges it is readable. There is a natural evolution in the narrative. It opens with formal messages between two strangers and gradually leads to an intimate friendship. Within that developing relationship, the communication becomes more complex, as each side slowly reveals more about their lives, the roles they perform, their frustrations, their fears. And soon, it is what they discover that they have in common that determines their continuing communication. What kee As a book based on email exchanges it is readable. There is a natural evolution in the narrative. It opens with formal messages between two strangers and gradually leads to an intimate friendship. Within that developing relationship, the communication becomes more complex, as each side slowly reveals more about their lives, the roles they perform, their frustrations, their fears. And soon, it is what they discover that they have in common that determines their continuing communication. What keeps the friendship going is a shared need for female bonding. There may be at times too much talk about food, children, relatives, man trouble, concerns over feminine issues such as fertility, weight and physical appearance, housekeeping, etc. but that's what they have in common and best understand about the other. The minutiae of juggling a career with the demands of domestic life is what keeps the conversation going. In the email exchanges it's May who is the most naturally expressive, generous with endearments from early on (Bumbo Bee, lovely Bee...). I got the impression that Bee was somewhat hesitant at first, and distrustful of this display of affection. Over time though Bee lets her guard down, and soon they are calling each other 'big'/'little' sister. These expressions of filialtiy are what shapes and cements their friendship, more than anything else. The theme of the two women's bonding is best understood in relation to the unusual nature of May's marriage to second husband Ali. Both May and Ali are ostracized by their respective families (the reasons being several - May is a widow, Ali is much younger, and from a different religious group). The families' unequivocal and harsh reaction may seem overblown and harsh to non-Iraqis. Nevertheless, the concept of filiality in Arab society is very strong. The couple were cast out not for what they did per se, but for what & how their "scandalous" marriage reflected upon the extended family's image and values (unity, reputation and honor). From the point of view of the families, the couple disregarded the families' priorities for their own individual needs, and this was a betrayal, a selfish choice of the individual over the family. With that in mind, for May to address Bee as her sister was no small matter. Both women -each for their own reasons- had a need for the unequivocal trust and accepatance one assumes in kinship. Their frequent appeal to sisterhood displays a need they shared, but for May, given her alienation from her family and her in-laws, it was much stronger and fundamental. Bee understood that on an emotional level, but maybe failed (as with several other issues) to comprehend intellectually - at least in the beginning. May's desire to escape Baghdad are based on immediate danger and financial concerns, but the driving force behind the decision to leave everything behind is the promise of what she has developed and built through the extensive email correspondence - frienship and filiality. Towards the end of the book Bee openly admits to May that she (Bee) experienced moments of doubt and confusion earlier in their correspondence, but eventually overcame her misgivings and was ready to do all for her "sister." Of the two, it is May who is the most complex individual - she is rich with stories about her life, her unique experiences, and she also provides the backgroun information about Iraq to educated the Western reader. But it's Bee who is the core of the narrative, the one who learns along the way, is transformed by the email exchanges and the developing friendship. There are basically two processes of involvment for the reader: one, the reading of the email correspondence between two women, and two, the reading of how Bee is comprehending/interpreting May's stories recounted in the email messages. Bee's evolving point of view, as she gradually comes to a better understanding of May (and the Iraqi crisis) is the driving force of the narrative, even though May's stories are what makes this book worth reading. There are moments of tension when the two can't seem to communicate on the same intellectual level, despite their earnest efforts. There were times when I wanted to tell Bee, you just don't get it! May herself was patient. Maybe her teaching experience helped; at times Bee seemed to be as clueless to what actually goes on in the "world out there" as the university students in Baghdad that May was responsible for. Even before I started reading, I knew my response to the book would be filtered through the prism of my personal experience. Although for disparate reasons, I was predisposed to feel a strong connection with both May and Bee. During my formative years I was exposed to varied living conditions, from the creature comforts of a military base in the Far East to the dangers of a Middle Eastern city"> that - as with Baghdad - was once a flourishing cosmopolitan city where many faiths co-existed but became divided and deprived by civil war. Like May, I learnt to live without electricity and other amenities, slept in stairwells and hid under school desks while rocket shells exploded nearby, survived risky border crossings during last-minute evacuations, experienced being a 'refugee in transit' on board rescue ships or hotels while waiting with dread as the Red Cross processed our travel papers so that we could reach safety. During those years, the BBC World Service was an indispensible companion, primarily for the breaking news but also for the diversion it provided in difficult but boring times - the audio books, music and even quiz shows helped to keep us sane. However, from the very first pages of this book I became impatient with Bee's perspective. It was troubling to me that despite her best intentions and her heartfelt compassion and generosity, and in spite of the (one would assume) basic requisites of her news media job, Bee's lack of familiarity with the particular region and the historically documented complicity of her own nation in the crisis that May was trapped in, made itself evident time and time again. (Especially the entry 16.04.08 Thoughts on government.) All credit goes to May for the patience and the effort she demonstrated to 'educate' Bee in this regard! It made me simultaneoulsy smile and cringe as I read May's extensive explanations and clarifications. Sometimes I wondered if Bee actually ever "got it" (especially on matters of May's personal dignity and national pride). Granted, Bee is open-minded and eager to learn (in fact she is indeed knowledgeable about other places/cultures), but by the book's end I still felt a sense of dismay that Iraq and the Middle East in general will continue to be perceived through the lens of the white man's burden - misrepresented, misunderstood, misjudged, and viewed with fear. Towards the end of May's visa ordeal, Bee writes "The best way is to simply present the facts as you see them. World Service does this better than anyone as there are strict codes on the use of adjectives, value judgments and subjective language (famously, the word 'terrorist' is not used unless it is quoting someone else)." (15.09.08 More thoughtful but still got butterflies). In practice though, the reality though is far from this ideal, with regards both to the BBC, and to Bee herself. Ironically, on the very same page/email as the above statement, Bee betrays her own linguistic bias when she recounts, "On Thursday when I was at work...in walked Alan Johnston, the guy who had been kidnapped by the Palestinians..." Earlier statements indicated her tendency for distancing herself intellectually and emotionally from critically challenging events: "Lebanon is horrible and I'm glad I'm not at work having to think about it." (25.07.06. Tale of Two Cities) "I'm single-handedly chasing annoying little stories interspersed with big miserable stuff about Zimbabwe." (25.06.08 Back again)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Pratichi

    I first heard of this book when Bee Rowlatt attended a literature festival near my town. Being obsessed with all things Jane Austen I really wanted to attend her session, but for some reason couldn't. Have wanted to read the book since then. To be honest, there is hardly any talking about Jane Austen. Works are mentioned a couple of times, but that's it. Nevertheless, I wasn't disappointed. It is a brilliant story about two women, sitting in two very different parts of the world, sharing everyth I first heard of this book when Bee Rowlatt attended a literature festival near my town. Being obsessed with all things Jane Austen I really wanted to attend her session, but for some reason couldn't. Have wanted to read the book since then. To be honest, there is hardly any talking about Jane Austen. Works are mentioned a couple of times, but that's it. Nevertheless, I wasn't disappointed. It is a brilliant story about two women, sitting in two very different parts of the world, sharing everything, from there mundane tales of drinking tea to their deepest desires, loves and fears with each other. It is about the lives of women, how tumultuous it can be in war (and in peace), in hopes and in insecurities. In the series of emails exchanged you can see their friendship developing into a sisterhood, going through its triumphs. It is raw and honest, and you can also see the gaps, and possible tensions (I squirmed during the money discussions, knowing that both were right, yet hoping the other wouldn't bring it up). Above all it is about friendships, and how important these are. Made me think of mine, that see me through life. For the first time perhaps, I am not disappointed that Jane Austen was used as click-bait. :)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Maria Grazia

    Honestly , I bought this book thinking there would be much more Austen in it. In fact, there was very little. However, I’m not disappointed, I liked it a lot all the same. More than liked it, loved it! What is this book about? It is an exchange of e-mail messages (from January 2005 to October 2008) between two very different women who, little by little, develop a close friendship based on a strong feeling of sympathy. May teaches English Literature at a university in Baghdad, to a class of girls Honestly , I bought this book thinking there would be much more Austen in it. In fact, there was very little. However, I’m not disappointed, I liked it a lot all the same. More than liked it, loved it! What is this book about? It is an exchange of e-mail messages (from January 2005 to October 2008) between two very different women who, little by little, develop a close friendship based on a strong feeling of sympathy. May teaches English Literature at a university in Baghdad, to a class of girls only and, even though nothing could be farther from the reality surrounding them, she leaves her house every day to talk to them about Jane Austen. Old times’ skirmishes vs real war. At the same time, May tries to lead an ordinary life, going shopping or to the hairdresser’s, challenging the possibility of a bomb explosion each time. She has to cope with on and off electrical power supply, black market and the government’s repression against intellectuals like her, or different ethnic groups like her husband’s. Bee is a journalist living in London and her challenge is to run her life between her three little daughters and her work at BBC World, with a globetrotter as a husband. May and Bee couldn’t be more different. Culture, religion, kilometers separate them. Hence, when they get into contact through e-mail, because Bee wants an interview with May, they become friends. They tell each other about their routines and May’s messages become a sort of diary of the life in today’s troubled Iraq. A schizophrenic country where girls put on their make-up and unveil or untie their hair as soon as they get to class and then cover and compose themselves again before going back home , or where a daughter can still be rejected by her family for marrying a younger man of an inferior rank. Yet a country in which Jane Austen is not so impossible to read and understand. Jane Austen or Dickens but it is not an easy task to read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne with them. What those girls could never be able to understand is the chance to be freed and live in real democracy. After the initial lightness , May’s messages become more and more dripping of fear. For instance, “We were in Dorset for 10 days and had loads of people coming, so I thought it would be exhausting,” Bee Rowlatt writes. “Just as I was making tea and preparing breakfast a bomb exploded outside,” May Witwit answers. A race against time starts in order to save May and her husband Alì. Bee feels guilty when she sends May her tales about balancing a career with bringing up young daughters , about the stress of a free woman coping with her little troubles or her jealousy towards her own husband’s freedom to focus on his career . No bloodsheds, no bombs, no violence, no poverty . She feels guilty but to May those stories are both escape and hope. She dreams of joining Bee in England one day and starting all over with a different life in a different country. So Bee starts working and fighting for her friend, so that May’s dream may come true. May Witwit lives in England with her husbands now. (Read my complete review at http://bit.ly/oIJ5XI )

  14. 4 out of 5

    Deb

    This was a good read and I had a hard time putting the book down. It follows the emails between a British journalist and mother of three (Bee)and an Iraqi professor (May). What started out as an interview between the two women turned into a deep friendship as we read about a lifesaving scheme and journey to get May and her husband Ali out of war torn Iraq. I found the emails touching, sad, occasionally humorous and gripping. At times, I thought Bee's emails could be a bit whiny about mundane stu This was a good read and I had a hard time putting the book down. It follows the emails between a British journalist and mother of three (Bee)and an Iraqi professor (May). What started out as an interview between the two women turned into a deep friendship as we read about a lifesaving scheme and journey to get May and her husband Ali out of war torn Iraq. I found the emails touching, sad, occasionally humorous and gripping. At times, I thought Bee's emails could be a bit whiny about mundane stuff, compared to May's description of her day to day life and the horrors she was experiencing. Then I realized that Bee's emails of her daily events, like balancing job and child-rearing, the ups and downs of marriage, potty training, parties and vacations, was a breath of fresh air for May who dreamed of living a normal life again. Bee's correspondences transported May to a safe world which gave her hope. May's emails were an eye opener for the reader as to how life was prior and after the fall of Saddam Hussein. These emails told of a life full of deadly dangers such as bombings, gun fire, assassinations of friends, neighbors and co-workers, a life where just going down the street to get a hair cut could cost a person their life. I was especially interested in May's point of view of the U.S. military's occupation in her country. In my opinion, this book is worth reading. Note: This was a book that I received as a bookring through Bookcrossing.com

  15. 4 out of 5

    Helen Barr

    This book shows the developing friendship of two women, May and Bee, through their emails. I particularly liked the emails of May, the English professor in Baghdad. Her accounts of everyday experiences of the war/wars in Iraq are informative and moving. Bee, a mother and journalist in England also writes very well, but, sometimes sounds a little petty (maybe by comparison). The women decided to publish their email correspondence as part of a plan to raise money to help May leave the danger of Ba This book shows the developing friendship of two women, May and Bee, through their emails. I particularly liked the emails of May, the English professor in Baghdad. Her accounts of everyday experiences of the war/wars in Iraq are informative and moving. Bee, a mother and journalist in England also writes very well, but, sometimes sounds a little petty (maybe by comparison). The women decided to publish their email correspondence as part of a plan to raise money to help May leave the danger of Baghdad. The 'plot' moves along to this end, but is bogged down by emails expressing frustration at the administration and delays of the immigration process. It was interesting to be a fly on the wall of their conversation, but at the same time, the book felt somewhat meandering in parts. The women share many of their mundane troubles and it was enjoyable to see how they relate to and encourage each other in these moments. My favourite parts of the book are when the women share the things that inspire them and you can see that both May and Bee really enjoy literature. Bee mentions how a poem can sustain you and quotes the beautiful poem 'Spring and Fall: To a Young Child' by Gerard Manley Hopkins: Margaret are you grieving Over Goldengrove unleaving? Leaves, like the things of man, you With our fresh thoughts care for, can you? Ah! As the heart grows older It will come to such sights colder By the by, nor spare a sigh Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie; And yet you will weep and know why. Now no matter, child, the name: Sorrow's springs are the same. Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed What heart heard of, ghost guessed: It is the bight man was born for, It is Margaret you mourn for Although a litle unrelated to the general themes of the book, I really liked this poem. The book is filled with some interesting references and some lovely personal stories too, that like 'Spring and Fall', give hope and meaning to the challenges the women face.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bilal Ahmad

    Although, the title does not go with the content of the book still it is interesting and amazingly beautiful. This book is about two persons living two poles apart who become best friends by their three-year-long exchange of emails to one another. One is 'Bee' who works with BBC London and other is 'May' who works as English Professor at Baghdad. The curious thing about the book is that sometimes while reading, it feels you are secretly reading and listening some private conversation going on be Although, the title does not go with the content of the book still it is interesting and amazingly beautiful. This book is about two persons living two poles apart who become best friends by their three-year-long exchange of emails to one another. One is 'Bee' who works with BBC London and other is 'May' who works as English Professor at Baghdad. The curious thing about the book is that sometimes while reading, it feels you are secretly reading and listening some private conversation going on between two people. This book is about two aspects of life faced by two people, one is in the luxury of comfortable and peaceful life and the other living in a war zone and afraid of whether the eyes will see the light of morrow or not. One takes for granted the simple pleasures of life and the other looks for ways to avoid death waiting at every corner of the street. In the meantime, while exchanging the emails the two become very close friends like dear sisters and discuss every single and minute matter with each other and also become a pillar of strength to each other in difficult times. Absolutely beautiful and amazing read. Must go for it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rachael

    Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad... I was worried that there would be a LOT of Jane Austen and was very relieved that there wasn't much at all (especially as I picked this book for the bookgroup!) I really liked this book. I would probably give it a 3.5 really. I don't read much non-fiction but found this one very interesting. The two different stories, them trying to overcome so many hurdles was fascinating to read. However, the book did drag in places... I think I was around half way thinkin Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad... I was worried that there would be a LOT of Jane Austen and was very relieved that there wasn't much at all (especially as I picked this book for the bookgroup!) I really liked this book. I would probably give it a 3.5 really. I don't read much non-fiction but found this one very interesting. The two different stories, them trying to overcome so many hurdles was fascinating to read. However, the book did drag in places... I think I was around half way thinking come on get to the UK already. I was wanting to read more about the Baghdad story that I was about Bee's story in London. It's very surreal thinking that this is a TRUE story and it only happened less than ten years ago. I would love to read book 2... life in the UK. In fact I thought half way through the book would be them getting into the UK and then we could see them adjusting to our weather (loved the bit about May and Ali getting wet in the rain) and our culture and way of life. Maybe there will be a book 2? :)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Moore

    Bee, a journalist from the UK, and May, a professor in Iraq, begin an email friendship that lasts several years. Quite soon in the correspondence, they begin to brainstorm ways to get May and her husband Ali out of the country. Their lives are drastically different, and May relies on Bee’s everyday normalcy to get through the chaotic life she must endure. I enjoyed reading about the friendship between Bee and May. I also learned a lot about the suffering in Iraq, and the desperate need for peace Bee, a journalist from the UK, and May, a professor in Iraq, begin an email friendship that lasts several years. Quite soon in the correspondence, they begin to brainstorm ways to get May and her husband Ali out of the country. Their lives are drastically different, and May relies on Bee’s everyday normalcy to get through the chaotic life she must endure. I enjoyed reading about the friendship between Bee and May. I also learned a lot about the suffering in Iraq, and the desperate need for peace and democracy. May explained in detail about the superstitions, customs and rituals of her people. I admired her for her bravery. The ending of the story was rather abrupt, but I guess since the story was told through a series of emails once the mission to save May and Ali was accomplished, there wasn’t a need to communicate electronically anymore. Even so the ending was a success, and after many close calls and seemingly endless bad luck May and Ali made it to London!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    In 2005 Bee Rowlatt, a London journalist, sent a chance email to May Witwit, an Iraqi English lecturer, and from it a deep and touching friendship develops between the two women. Talking about "Jane Austen in Baghdad" is the exchange of these emails allowing the reader to explore the lives of the two women who have very little in common. However, as the two women share confidences, stories, jokes, tears and fears they begin to connect on many levels. While I loved the exchange of emails, I felt In 2005 Bee Rowlatt, a London journalist, sent a chance email to May Witwit, an Iraqi English lecturer, and from it a deep and touching friendship develops between the two women. Talking about "Jane Austen in Baghdad" is the exchange of these emails allowing the reader to explore the lives of the two women who have very little in common. However, as the two women share confidences, stories, jokes, tears and fears they begin to connect on many levels. While I loved the exchange of emails, I felt that the book became a bit bogged down in the second half as May is confined to her house due to the very real dangers around her. However, the book does end happily and is certainly a worthwhile read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Archana

    My golden run continues with yet another wonderful book. A series of mails exchanged between a spirited working mom of three from UK and an insightful lecturer from Iraq, gives us a glimpse of both the worlds. At one point I am empathising with Bee, as she struggles to balance her career, school obligations, globe trotting husband and her loving children. At another point, am wondering how May kept her wits about, teaching democracy, human rights and of course Jane Austen through the frequent bomb My golden run continues with yet another wonderful book. A series of mails exchanged between a spirited working mom of three from UK and an insightful lecturer from Iraq, gives us a glimpse of both the worlds. At one point I am empathising with Bee, as she struggles to balance her career, school obligations, globe trotting husband and her loving children. At another point, am wondering how May kept her wits about, teaching democracy, human rights and of course Jane Austen through the frequent bombing, daily warfare and murders of her colleagues. Her search for normalcy, in going ahead with her life amazed me. So did Bee's struggle to fight for someone she had never known in person. Truly a friendship to behold!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    I really enjoyed reading of these two very different women's lives and yet the fundamentals that are important are still the same despite circumstance. I found reading of the day-to-day trials of wartorn Iraq confronting and know I can't even begin to understand living in that environment. Sustained stress and anxiety would be so tough. At times I found Bee a little bit whiney but hey, I would be too with 3 young children and a high pressured job! I really enjoyed reading of these two very different women's lives and yet the fundamentals that are important are still the same despite circumstance. I found reading of the day-to-day trials of wartorn Iraq confronting and know I can't even begin to understand living in that environment. Sustained stress and anxiety would be so tough. At times I found Bee a little bit whiney but hey, I would be too with 3 young children and a high pressured job!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Beth (bibliobeth)

    I found this book very insightful, made all the more poignant by the fact that it is a true story of a friendship developed through emails from a British journalist and an Iraq academic. Apart from the format of the book, I enjoyed the occasional bursts of humour. For example, when May describes that tomatoes are forbidden to be grown alongside cucumbers as it looks quite rude, and goats should wear nappies as the sight of their gentials is too disturbing!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kelly (smeets_x)

    I really enjoyed this simple book. I loved how their emails detailed the humdrum parts of their lives as well as the more serious incidents, such as avoiding getting shot on the way to the hairdressers. Its amazing how much women share and how our experiences are really quite similar no matter where we live and how old we are. Great easy read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tracey

    This is one of the most amazing biographical books you could read. The extraordinary friendship between the two narrators helps to move the book along as they exist in two very different ways of life. This book had me laughing, crying, and biting my nails in fear. The title may be deceiving but dont let it put you off, as this is a book everyone should read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Superficialcry

    Addicitve and a story that truely needs to be told. It shows the viewpoint of an ordinary Iraqi just trying to live her life, and trying to escape it. And also a beautiful friendship, which shows there are good people out there willing to make a difference.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Zabetta Camilleri

    Captivating. Through the process of a developing friendship and the simplicity of emails describing daily life, pleasures and frustrations we get an amazing insight into the power of perseverance. Well done to Bee and May. If all women were like them, we will be in such a better place

  27. 4 out of 5

    Karen McCulloch

    Loving this beautiful example of human capacity for friendship in unlikely circumstances. But even more impacting for me is the insight into the horrific impact of US inovlement in Iraq. Devestating and so so wrong.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chrissi

    I really enjoyed this book which was very poignant but still had elements of humour within it. I think the style of emails works really well, especially as it leaves you wanting to read one more email! I would definitely recommend it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    When I heard that there was a book called 'Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad – The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship' my first thought was that it sounded just a bit too similar to ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ and I will admit that I dismissed it as another ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ book and thought no more of it. Then in autumn 2011 BBC Radio 4 did an adaptation, teasing the listener with just 15 minutes each day and I was hooked. I loved the adaptation of the book so much that I ordered a When I heard that there was a book called 'Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad – The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship' my first thought was that it sounded just a bit too similar to ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ and I will admit that I dismissed it as another ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ book and thought no more of it. Then in autumn 2011 BBC Radio 4 did an adaptation, teasing the listener with just 15 minutes each day and I was hooked. I loved the adaptation of the book so much that I ordered a copy almost immediately – though perhaps to call it a ‘book’ is the wrong way to describe this. In effect, it’s just a collection of emails gathered over several years of friendship between a UK-based journalist and an Iraqi academic. Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit are the unlikely and serendipitous friends. In January 2005 Bee was working as a journalist for the BBC World Service and was trying to find someone in Iraq whom she could interview about the Iraqi elections for a radio show. May was the woman she found, an academic who was teaching English at a university in Baghdad. What started as a simple enquiry evolved – as email friendships often can – into a deep and enduring relationship between the two women and a campaign to get May out of Iraq and away to safety as an asylum seeker. Each woman became fascinated by the life of the other and wanted to know more about what was happening in their very different worlds. Bee learned of May’s life in war-torn Baghdad, of the challenge of her Shia-Sunni mixed marriage and the antagonism it attracted, and of the crazy goings-on in her workplace where logic and common sense had long been a victim to politics. In exchange she offered May a window onto the world of a suburban London middle-class mum, worrying over the school run and the Parent Teacher Association, whether they take the kids to Glastonbury and how to balance her time and energy between kids, her husband and her work. The emails track the growth of their friendship and their campaign to get May and her husband Ali out of Iraq and over to the UK. Once May finds herself on an official hit-list of academics at risk of murder, the case for asylum grows stronger but nothing ever runs smoothly when dealing with the authorities in both the UK and Iraq and countries in between. May and Ali attempt to leave Iraq but nothing runs as smoothly as they hope. As readers, we all suspect that this book must have some kind of happy ending but at times it doesn’t half feel like it’s a very long time and frustrating time coming. The things I liked best about the book were the exchange of details about the absurdities of everyday life – May dodging armed militia in order to get a hair cut or having to go out with her hair only half ‘styled’ when the power cuts out halfway through drying it. Bee writes of covering up what’s happened when her baby daughter pees herself in the photo processor’s shop and both exchange the irritations and annoyances of their married lives. As a way to learn about what everyday life in Baghdad was like for an educated woman married to a man of the wrong sub-religion, it’s a much easier read than most autobiographical attempts to express the challenge. It’s by focusing on the seemingly banal little details that we find ourselves gaining a deeper understanding that’s lost when simply watching yet another report of a suicide bombing or an attack on civilians. 'Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad' isn’t perfect though. There’s nothing actually wrong with this book it’s just – in my opinion – it’s much too long. If you got access to my email account and wanted to read my emails to friends it would probably seem quite interesting to start with – in fact we generally feel a bit naughty reading someone else’s correspondence. But after 370 pages of correspondence back and forth, I couldn’t help but think there was a great 200-page book tucked between the covers of ‘Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad’ and 170 pages of filler and fluff. I have no objection to long books but when there’s little plot and just the exchange of the minutiae of everyday life, it feels like a mountain to climb to keep plodding through. There’s also a strange sense that once the women realise that the way to raise money for May’s application and move to the UK is by selling their email story, a hint of a doubt creeps in about whether the writing changes slightly because they know that they are intended for a wider audience. Epistolary novels or non-fiction of the past depended to some degree on the time it took for letters to get from one person to the other. Letters were carefully crafted and people often kept copies for posterity. Now we fire off hundreds of emails each day often without even stopping to read them through before pushing that SEND button. I’m not a fan of email-based books and this book hasn’t greatly changed my mind about that position. I take my hat off to whoever it was that abridged this for the BBC series and cut out a lot of the waffle to focus on the core of the story of these two women. I wish that Bee and May had been willing to give an editor a little more free reign with a red pen. Had they done so this might well have been a 5 star read rather than a 3 star drag.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Teresa Bassett

    loved this book, its not the usual type of book I would read. It had me laughing out loud and crying at the same time.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.