Borrowed from Ali

Bee is a busy mother and journalist in London.  May is a harassed University teacher in Baghdad, dodging bullets and bombs just to get to the hairdresser, let alone to work.   They make contact for a news programme then keep in email contact for a number of years.  Their lives are contrasted as their share more and more details, and as May and her husband find their situation getting worse and worse, Bee and her family try to find a way to get them out to the UK.

Harrowing in its details, this is one of those books that’s important to read, but not too worthy.  Although they do obviously decide to write a book together part way through the narrative, and you do see the effect of this decision in their emails a bit, it does also seem to be an honest portrayal of their friendship, with arguments and worries as well as support and jolly stories about children.  It is of course impossible to imagine what life was like for May and Ali in Iraq, but we are in Bee’s position there, as she worries about gabbling about childcare and cupcakes when her friend’s world is falling apart.  But it’s the little details of friendship that help both women get through, and that’s an important lesson to take from the book, along with the bigger political and historical implications.