“Where were the peacekeepers? Where was the UN? Why was the entire world ignoring Saddam’s attack upon his own people? Were we Kurds considered so unworthy, so disposable? I longed to stand at the top of the mountain and shout out, Where are you, world? Where are you ?”
~ Jean Sasson, Love in a Torn Land
Long after I am done reading Love in a Torn Land and have put the book away, Joanna and Sarbast continue to occupy my thoughts. I can picture Joanna trying to breathe through the vicious chemical attack, and then successfully escaping the village Bergalou and then holding on to the back of the mule while crossing the dangerous Qandil mountain range. I imagine her husband Sarbast, a peshmerga (a Kurdish fighter) suffering hardships for his devotion towards Kurdistan and his wife Joanna…as a reader, I still feel attached to their plight as a peshmerga couple struggling against Iraqi government’s violent oppression of the Kurdish people.
Before I delve deeper into their story, here’s how the book blurb describes it.
Bestselling author Jean Sasson tells the dramatic true story of a young woman caught up in Saddam Hussein’s genocide of the Kurdish people of Iraq.
One morning Joanna, a young bride living in the Kurdish mountains of Iraq, was surprised to see dead birds drop silently out of the clear sky. They were followed by sinister canisters falling to the ground, bringing fear and death.
It was 1987, and Saddam Hussein had ordered his cousin ‘Chemical Ali’ to bombard Joanna’s village, Bergalou, with chemical weapons. Temporarily blinded in the attack, Joanna was rescued by her husband, a Kurdish freedom fighter. After being caught in another bombardment and left for dead in the rubble, they managed to flee over the mountains in a harrowing escape.
Now living in the UK and working for British Airways, Joanna has told the story of her eventful life to Jean Sasson, the bestselling chronicler of oppressed women’s lives in the Princess trilogy and Mayada.
My two cents:
Love in a Torn Land is the true story of a young Kurdish woman, Joanna al-Askari, caught up in Saddam Hussein’s genocide of the Kurdish people of Iraq. The account has been put together by Jean Sasson, and though written in the first person, like an autobiography, it falls into the ‘as told to’ genre.
The book gives an insight into the struggles faced by the Kurdish people at the hands of the Arabs but does not go very deep into the history of the conflict. But then sometimes even a cursory view of a problem goes a long way in making the audience aware of an issue they are unaware of.
Love in a Torn Land follows the life of Joanna al-Askari, from 1972 through 1990. Joanna was raised in Baghdad by her Arab Iraqi father and her Kurdish mother. Living under Saddam Hussein’s ruthless Baathist regime, she desires to escape to Kurdistan, where her mother is from. She lives a comparatively sheltered life in Baghdad though acutely aware of the Arab’s Baathist regime’s hatred for the Kurds and dreams of becoming a peshmerga (a Kurdish freedom fighter) when she grows up. As luck would have it, she falls deeply in love with Sarbast, a peshmerga who lives in Kurdistan and occasionally visits his relatives in Baghdad. Though initially Sarbast does not reciprocate Joanna’s feelings for him but eventually he woos her with love letters and then wins her over. They marry and hereon begins Joanna’s struggle to first unite with her husband in Kurdistan and then manage to live in snake and scorpion infested villages that are routine targets of shelling and bombing. She survives them all but a poisonous chemical attack on their village by Saddam’s cousin and second in command forces the husband-wife duo to flee across the treacherous Qandil Mountains into Iran, from where they eventually take exile in the UK.
The book though lacks depth about the Arab-Kurdish animosity but still manages to throw light on the oppression of the Kurds at the hands of the Arab’s Baathist government helmed by Saddam Hussein. The story of the genocide of the people of Kurdistan in Iraq by Saddam Hussein are horrifying and even more horrifying is fact that a large part of the world is unaware of these heinous crimes. While I have read haphazard details of the horrors of Saddam’s Baathist regime, the full extent of the chemical warfare, genocide and the everyday brutalization of the Kurds really register as one reads through the book.
All in all, Love in a Torn Land is an engaging read and presents an interesting overview of the situation of the Kurds in Iraq from a woman’s perspective.
More about the book
Author: Jean Sasson
Publisher: Bantam Books
Genre: Political Non-Fiction
Price: Rs. 350
GiniSpeaks Ratings: 3/5