This week’s blog post will be completely off topic. I’ve been tasked with a short book review of Nahlah Ayed’s A Thousand Farewells. As much as I’d like to somehow tie this book into the central theme of my blog, it doesn’t appear to be possible.
Initially, I struggled to find the right words to sum up how I felt about this book. I like to think of myself as someone who is worldly and well informed. But even I was shocked at some of the stories Nahlah recounted. There were excerpts of horrific prisons where innocent people were mercilessly tortured, to scenes of hysterical women screaming beside unearthed mass grave sites. The book painted a picture of a Middle East I was completely unfamiliar with.
Here in the west, we could be accused of having an overly simplistic view of what happens over in that part of the world. For the longest time, all we knew about places like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Lebanon is they were filled with Muslim radicals who strap bombs to themselves, and then blow them up in the name of Allah. After all, that’s what was presented to us on news reports from the mainstream media outlets on television. So it’s no surprise ignorance of the Middle East runs rampant here at home.
Nahlah tries her best to give her readers a clear understanding of what’s happening in a very complicated region. The history of violence in the Middle East is well documented, but almost impossible to summarize in a book of only 400 pages. I thought Nahlah did an excellent job of writing for her western audience. She took the time to give her readers interesting pieces of information, other writers may have overlooked. Letting us know how a word like “gorbah” has such a deep and powerful meaning in its native tongue that translating it to English hardly does the word justice. Giving us these minute details was really impactful.
Her descriptions about her life in Lebanon were easily some of the most enjoyable parts of the book for me. Her vivid descriptions about Habib’s in Beirut made me feel like I was there with her.
This was the first time I actually felt exhausted after reading certain parts of this book. This is once again accredited to Nahlah’s writing style. I can easily see how the stress of Nahlah’s job took its toll on her physically. The constant change of time zones, the lack of sleep, and the culture shock would have been too much for me to handle. She conveyed those feelings of overwhelming fatigue wonderfully.
The Arab proverbs at the beginning of each chapter were a nice touch.
It would have been nice if she would have included a picture of a small regional map each time she entered a different country. I found it difficult to keep track of where she was situated sometimes. With all the traveling she was forced to do by car, it would have been helpful to have a visual included, to see exactly what routes she traveled, and what places she passed through along the way.
If you are interested in becoming a journalist, and you have every intention of fully investing yourself in your work the way Nahlah does in this book, you need to be prepared to make some sacrifices. Even though Nahlah is living her dream, she very candidly spoke about the friendships that she lost, and all the time she spent away from her family she will never get back. So either make it a priority to remain in contact with the important people in your life no matter what the circumstances are, or accept the fact that friendships will end and family life will go on without you.
Maybe it was because I was reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now in between chapters of A Thousand Farewells, but I couldn’t help but notice how Nahlah seemed to fit in with Tolle’s message. Eckhart implores his readers to be conscious of each moment in life, and to make the most of every opportunity. Nahlah is the perfect example of someone who lives for the moment. She never looks back.
This book really puts things into perspective. Our first world problems here in Canada aren’t really problems at all. They’re minor annoyances that we turn into catastrophes. Some people even go out of their way to create drama and conflict, just to make their lives a little more interesting. There was a Middle Eastern refugee in Nahlah’s book who challenged anyone from the west to live in her shoes for only one day. Then they would understand what hardships really are. I can think of a few dozen people who should take her up on that offer.
After reading Nahlah’s book, I can’t watch a newscast the same way I used to. Whenever a camera would pan a refugee camp outside of a country like Syria, all I saw was a bunch of displaced and unwanted nameless faces. Like the land of misfit toys. It sounds terrible, but I never really looked at them as people. Now, even though it’s impossible for me to relate with any of them, I feel like I have a better understanding of what it means to be a refugee.
They are people who have homes, they have families and they have stories.
Nahlah tried her best to tell them.