HOME About Barnaby Books        Reviews     Articles    Recommendations Links      Contact Info

HIGH TEA IN MOSUL: the true story of two Englishwomen in war-torn Iraq, by Lynne O'Donnell
published by Cyan

The invasion of Iraq is a profound tragedy of our time, but one that is curiously empty of principal characters now that the old tyrant has himself been swept from the stage. We may despair over the daily accumulation of casualties, numbered in their thousands and their tens of thousands, but like some Biblical account of an ancient war there is a frustrating lack of emotional engagement.

High Tea in Mosul is an attempt to break through this barrier, and connect with the realities of everyday life in Iraq. The persistent edge of fear, the innate political caution of a people brought up under Saddam's dictatorship which was to be followed by the numbing experience of living through the allied aerial-bombardments and the creeping tide of street violence, assassination, bombing and kidnappings after the invasion. Lynne O'Donnell has provided us with a lightning rod with which to connect with these raw experiences. For although O'Donnell is an experienced foreign correspondent, she has consciously dropped beneath the threshold of the grand strategies of the male protagonists to record two mother's testimonies. That they are both English-born with thirty-years of experience of freely living in Iraq offers a doorway through which a western reader can explore Iraqi society; complete with cousins, mother-in-laws, clans, tribes, the Baath party, friday-at-homes and the booty from the conquest of Kuwait. That they were both happily married to tolerant, loving and hard-working Iraqi husbands, only adds to the mounting tension. Both families are seen to have prospered under Saddam's regime, where intellectuals and doctors were well-rewarded workers in the socialist command economy. Though in their very different backgrounds, the two men; one a clever young scholar from a clan of Kurdish peasants, the other born into the educated town-dwelling class of Sunni Arabs, represent the ethnic schism which will ultimately help tear Mosul, the two families and Iraq apart.

High Tea in Mosul offers us a precious and important insight and stands easy comparison with the work of fellow-journalist, Asne Seierstad's Bookseller of Kabul.

Back to Reviews page

Recent Books
by Barnaby Rogerson

The Heirs of the Prophet Muhammad: And the Roots of the Sunni-Shia Schism

Book of Numbers

The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography