“Postcards from the Middle East” by Chris Naylor

Postcards from the Middle East: How Our Family Fell in Love with the Arab World

(Author: Chris Naylor) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

The most important thing: do not be swayed by the lack of two stars in the rating, it’s a good book! I’m going to point out the negative sides first, and fast, and then I’m going to go to the many great parts, so please read on! (I’m actually going to do this review totally backwards – I usually start with the very best and end with the things that I disliked, this time around, I’m beginning with the minuses of the book and the last part is going to be what I truly loved about it.)

What happened to the two stars, which would have made my five star rating complete: there was a bit too much religion for my taste, which knocked off a star and a half. I am highly opposed to books which preach, and after about 40% of Postcards from the Middle East, it got too preachy for my taste. Recently I declined to review a book for those same reasons. I’m Christian and I have absolutely nothing against anyone having whatever religion they choose. But when it gets all let’s-quote-the-Bible, I’m out. It’s my right to decide how to look upon the world.

Another half star as removed because there was just too much birdwatching. Too much. Since I don’t think that birdwatching is in any way restricted to the Middle East, I don’t think it needs so much attention in a book with the title Postcards from the Middle East: How our family fell in love with the Arab world. I understand that it played a big role in Mr Naylor’s life, but when you choose your title, you are more or less restricted to a narrative which is tightly related to the title. About 100 Kindle pages of birdwatching is not a sign of restriction.

I didn’t remove any stars for this… Maybe I should have?! But I don’t feel I should. This is much more about the nature of the author than it is about the book. And since I’m not here to review his moral standards, but his book, I’ll just say it and not let it affect my rating. I was disturbed by the fact that the events of 9/11 are put in a chapter called something along the lines of “When the World Changed” or something, and are shown as close to catastrophic to humanity, yet when people from any other country are killed in the book, it’s sort of a statistic. I’m not denying that 9/11 was a tragedy and that so many innocent lives were lost. I, however, don’t think that American lives, or those of the people in the Western world, are more valuable than the lives of the people dying in the Middle East every day by the hundreds. When Kuwait is overtaken by Iraq in the book, the author is not really moved by the people who died during the attack, his main worry is that his car and his apartment are gone. When people are killed during the Hezbollah/Israel war, it’s just: “Today 200 people died . Yesterday 150 people died. Total of the war: 3 000 people. Question to self: when are me and my family going back to England?”

BUT: THIS BOOK IS MUCH MORE THAN IT’S NEGATIVE SIDES. 

What I really, really loved about  Postcards from the Middle East is that it shows the Middle East. Good sides and bad. I have held a great interest in this region since about the time that I could take an interest in anything. I wanted to be an archaeologist and I was always drawn to Egypt and the lands to the East. Some of the first books which I bought for myself where about Babylon, Egypt, Sumer and so on. That’s why I’m so sickened by all of the horrors and destruction going on in this cradle of civilization today. I’m sick of the misinterpretation, of the wars, of the massacres and crimes against culture and humanity.  Postcards from the Middle East shows this world through the eyes of people who loved it, but are also able to judge its bad sides realistically.

I began to highly admire the adventurous spirit of the Naylor family, the way that they uprooted themselves from the safety of good old England and went into the heart of a land plagued by wars for hundreds of years. That’s what I call real guts and that’s what made me really inspired in this story. Inspired enough to maybe one day get over my own reservations and follow my dreams of seeing the lands that have been of an interest to me since my childhood. Not to mention the fact that, considering that this is what I study in university, I’m a great language buff and somewhat following the Naylors while they are studying Arabic, made me feel like I was doing it. Maybe I will…

And talking about that, I really loved the trivia that Chris Naylor puts here and there, little tidbits about the culture, language, customs and so on. I really liked the part where he explains Arabic replies and exclamations. I knew most of them, since they are used in Turkish as well, but in Turkish they have more or less gained modal meaning, For example “Inshallah”, which is just an exclamation which shows hopes for something to happen. Whereas Naylor explains what those same sayings mean literally in Arabic: I have actually highlighted it and I intend to use it as a reference in the future.

My favourite part about this book, though, was the descriptions of the Middle East BEFORE.  This book touches very sensitive problems about the state the Middle East is in today. But it also touches the sensitive subject of how it used to be. Beauty which we will never see again. Lives that are forever lost. History, which got destroyed in the making of history. It made me think about how much of the artifacts of our origin we have lost. Considering that the Middle East was once the birthplace of civilization and even of the religion as it is today, we have lost so much connected to how we came to be at all.

This last part is not really part of the review. I just want to put some of the pictures that I saw when I decided to google some Middle Eastern countries from before the wars. Images from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. What went so wrong?

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In picture: Syria, before and after war

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dar-al-ifta-aleppo-before-after

grave_yassir

syria-homs-before-after

baghdad

9d16d-askariyyain-shrine-before-after-7635471

on-the-left-is-a-picture-showing-the-photographers-daughter-in-a-pleasant-park-on-the-right-is-that-same-park-40-years-later

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