An Iraqi woman and a British reporter exchange emails every day. What’s special about that, you ask. One’s a brave, hard-smoking lecturer of English. The other is a mother of three and a news reporter. Hard to guess which? May Witwit lives in Baghdad, Iraq, braving bullets and bombs just so she can go get her hair cut and blow dried, lecturing at a university. Bee Rowlatt is a mother of three, and a feisty lady trooping through the trials and tribulations of motherhood. The paths of the two women cross each other in a way that redefines their lives.
A simple email brings the two of them together, and takes them on a journey that shows them a friendship like nothing before. Transcending the differences of culture, religion and age, Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad is the story of two women who share laughter and tears, swapping their confidences, dreams and fears. In the backdrop of war-stricken Iraq and an urban British setting, the two women come together to hatch an ingenious plan to help May escape the bombings of Baghdad.
Between bloodbaths and baking cakes, the two women send a volley of emails back and forth, talking about war, about teaching English and nitpicking husbands. May needs to escape a difficult future in Iraq. Bee wants to help her, but the lynchpin is money. In a revolutionary turn of sorts, the two women decide to take the plunge and plan to get May the money she needs: by publishing a book. The book they published is the very one that’s being reviewed here: comprising a chronicled rendition of all their emails. Their emails touch upon everything from hairdressers and Jane Austen to the Sunni-Shia conflict and the corruption in Iraq; from baking cakes for school sales and summer vacations, to democracy and daughters.
The book is simple, yet hard-hitting. With a clean insight into the different worlds that run in parallel, the book shows that humanity thrives across cultures, and that sisterhood is a bond that can be forged through any medium. Although the emails work well at the beginning, gradually the pace slows. It is an insightful journey for anyone that is interested in the challenges one faces while living in a war zone in the Middle East, in stark contrast to a Western Society habituated to modern-day democracy. If you’re looking for a racy, fast-paced book, this is not the best choice: the story degenerates into a crib-fest in parts, and also projects a superfluous proclivity on the part of the West in understanding the difficulties of a war zone.