A Thousand Farewells

I read this book over the last couple of months. If not for the journalism assignment, I would have never picked it up. To be honest, I usually avoid reading anything to do with the Middle East. This is partly because I don't trust what I hear about the region, and partly because it's so depressing. Reading the book forced me to acknowledge how much violence and pain and suffering is happening there. Basic human rights are violated by the oppressive regimes running many of the countries there. I can't wrap my head around what it would feel like to be afraid to tell the truth about what's happening, or to risk death just by talking to a man in public.

Nahlah Ayed has lived in the thick of the wars and protests in the Middle East for years, seeing it as her duty to report to the world the stories of the region. What I admire about her intention is rather than focusing on the political parties and protesters like every other reporter, she aims to tell the stories of everyday citizens who live amid the chaos.

While I admire her intention and dedication to her purpose, I found this book difficult to digest. Not only because of the subject matter, which became so heavy and repetitive with injustice and carnage that I had to put it down, but also because of the way she wrote the book. I found it hard to grab onto a story arc, because the book jumped from one person or place or event to another rapidly. It felt like I got a lesson on the Arab Spring by drinking out of a literary firehose.

Her story spans several countries. I wish she had inserted a map into each page where the book switches locations, so I could follow her journey in a visual way. There were also so many names to keep track of, like who is running which country, and who came before them, and who opposes them. It would have been nice to see this represented visually somehow for each region.

Whether you enjoyed the book or not, it's a piece of journalism that other aspiring journalists can learn from. Ayed included some detail about her life, mainly at the beginning and end of the book, but she kept herself and her thoughts out of the stories for the most part. Good journalists are taught not to make the story about them, but I would have liked to read more about how being in war zones affected her as time went on, and not just at the end of the book. I wanted to get invested in her quest, but found the lack of personal details throughout made it hard to dig in. She did an impeccable job of writing factual information, a testament to the fact that she must have kept records or journals of her interviews. It reminded me not to throw out any material, in case I decide to turn it into another project down the road.

My favourite non-fiction book is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It's hard to compare these books because they are so different, but they are both memoirs. The reason I love Gilbert's book is because it is about her journey. I get to know what she's thinking, and feel like I'm a fly on the wall for her life journey. Ayed's book feels like a piece of journalism, where Gilbert's book reads like a novel. I'm also a sucker for a happy ending. Ask my boyfriend, and he'll tell you how hard it is to get me to watch any movies with a depressing premise. In Gilbert's book, I got my happy ending. In Ayed's book, there was a sliver of hope at the end, but the situation remains quite depressing.

Reading Ayed's book, however difficult it was, was a good experience for me. An idealist and romantic to the core, it's good for me to be exposed to what's happening in the world, and to be educated on the background of the stories I hear on the news almost daily. It made me want to rise up against the injustice women in the Middle East experience. It made me so grateful to be living in Canada, free to rant and rave and look at whoever I want and dress however I want. I've never thought twice about those privileges.

Finally, it made me feel a swell of compassion for all the Middle Eastern refugees in Canada, some of whom I've encountered in my work as a pharmacist. I never knew where they were coming from. I never realized that moving to Canada may have not been their dream, that they would much rather have stayed in their country but were forced to leave because their lives were in danger. I hope one day they can go back to their countries in peace and safety.