Iraq is a nation that is portrayed either through its politics, most notoriously through Saddam and his regime, or through its ancient and glorious history, but never through its people. ~Tamara Chalabi, author of Late for Tea at the Deer Palace
Since my knowledge of Iraq is based on solely on the attributes Tamara Chalabi identifies in the above statement from the Prologue, I was eager to read her book because she has chosen to tell her country’s 20th century story as it relates to her family. Through the eyes of her people, Chalabi is able to bring a troubled nation to life. She also helps us understand the background of the Iraqi people, and what they have been through in the past 100 years.
Ms. Chalabi’s father and grandfather were prominent Iraqi businessmen and political leaders in the early part of the 2oth century, but were forced to flee their home when the monarchy was overthrown in the 1950’s, leaving most of their wealth and possessions behind. The family was forced into exile in London, and had to virtually rebuild their entire lives. Unlike many other immigrants who had the same experiences over the years, the Chalabi family has come full circle and was able to return to Iraq.
The book is subtitled “The Lost Dreams of my Iraqi Family,” and the reader becomes well acquainted with Ms. Chalabi’s family. I loved her grandmother, Bibi, who was short in stature, but long on faith and devotion to her family, and knew how to “work the political system” to the family’s advantage. Chalabi acknowledges in the introduction that her father, Ahmad Chalabi, has been accused of being the source of false intelligence that led the US into war with Iraq, so perhaps the families troubles are not over.
Tamara Chalabi holds a PhD from Harvard, and her attention to historical detail is marvelous. But because the books focus is on the way historical events in general affected one family in particular, it is accessible to the non-historically minded reader while it provides a great deal of insight and information about this interesting and troubled country.