Book Review: Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad, by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit

I joined the bookring for Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad, written by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit, simply because of the title. I mean, I’m a Jane Austen fan, what else is to be expect? It didn’t talke long, though, before I realised that this book was not so much about Jane Austen, as about two other women.

The book "Talking about Jane Austen i Baghdad" is on a table, a cup of coffee on the top right corner.
Photo: Mittens and Sunglasses © 2014

This is the correspondence between the BBC journalist Bee and the Iraqi university teacher May, who wrote e-mails to eachother from the beginning of 2005 to late 2008. Bee works for the BBC World Service in London, is married with small kids. May teaches English and human rights at the University of Baghdad, and is married for the second time to a much younger man.

It is through Bee’s job the two women get in touch with eachother for the first time:


Dear May

Thank you for agreeing to be available for interview. As I said, I’m a producer for BBC World Service radio, on the news programme The World.

And so starts the e-mailing back and forth the two women, and through e-mails they develop a deep friendship, despite cultural differences, age gap and different religious views.

This was a very interesting read. I must admit I even had to break down some prejudices I had about Iraqi women. And that, I think, is a good thing. I loved reading about the women’s lives. Especially I found May’s side of the story interesting. Through her eyes we get to know Iraq better, even before and after the invation. Not only does May tell Bee about the (then) present situation in Iraq, but she also gives information about the coutry’s history. I can’t even phantom how it must be like to have such living conditions!

I’ve seen some people mentioning that they don’t like May all that much, but I disagree. Even though there are things she, and Bee for that matter, thinks that I do not agree on, I do take a liking to her. Heck, I like them both. Not that I know what on earth I would say to them should I ever meet them, but they’re real. They don’t show us picture perfect lives, but how things really are, for them both.

To be honest, I think this is the kind of book most people should read! Maybe especially Americans, but also others in the western part of the world. I think that we all have something to learn from this. Maybe we should force Barak Obama to read this? 😉