More Memoire than Dispatches

Friday Was the Bomb, by Nathan Dueul, (Dzanc Books)

Nathan Dueul’s, Friday Was the Bomb, recounts his experiences living in the middle east, working as a freelance writer, and caring for his daughter, while his wife worked as a war correspondent for National Public Radio. This isn’t a full-on memoire, rather it’s a collection of some of his freelance essays (with revision) that originally appeared in a variety of publications, including Al Jazeera America, Los Angeles Review of Books, and The New Republic.

I requested an electronic ARC of this book anticipating that it might give me an insider’s view of the political clashes and civil wars currently fomenting in the middle east—but it’s Dueul’s wife who’s the war correspondent, not Dueul. One learns little about the Middle East in these essays beyond the fact that an interesting range of ex-pats live there and that occasional violence breaks out with loss of life. In other words, this isn’t really a book about the middle east.

What it is is a book about balancing fatherhood and work, these tasks complicated by worries about a spouse with a very dangerous job. He is sincerely interested in events around him:

I was excited and honored—overwhelmed, really—to be standing in the middle [of this region], hoping the darker forces of death and destruction would keep their distance and that my own enthusiasm to learn more—with Kelly’s [his wife] ability to report well and stay alive, with the resilience of the Iraqi people, with America’s ability to be honest about its power and priorities, with my ability to have faith in something it was difficult to have faith in—maybe things might actually get better.

But what Dueul writes most about isn’t the political aspirations of the Iraqi people or America’s honesty. We get stories of taking children for a snow day in Lebanon, of an art opening made lively with ample beer, of getting the best shave and haircut of his life from a barber in Instanbul. Quicky finding the best safety razor in a store nearby, a great gift for the young one about to need it.

Dueul isn’t blind to the struggles being played out around him, but when he thinks of them, he’s putting a good bit of his energy into watching his own responses to them, using the times in war zones to try to work out what sort of a man he is. Near the end of the book, transitioning to life back in the U.S. he notes that, “On the eve of our new life in America, I had a feeling that everything I’d struggled with the last five years—worrying, death, guilt—would dog me no matter what country we lived in.”

If you want to read a collection about the challenges of fatherhood and manhood—albeit in an extraordinary setting—you’ll enjoy this book. But I was looking for insights into a political struggle often minimally covered by the U.S. media, and I left this book feeling none the wiser.

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