Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Being Kurdish In A Hostile World by Ayub Nuri

Being Kurdish In A Hostile World by Ayub Nuri
Published by the University of Regina Press in Canada in October 2017.

One of my 2018 Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge reads and featured in WorldReads: Iraq

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository (PB)
Wordery (PB)
Waterstones (PB)
Amazon (used PB)

In Being Kurdish in a Hostile World, Ayub Nuri writes of growing up during the Iran-Iraq War, of Saddam Hussein's chemical attack that killed thousands in Nuri's home town of Halabja, of civil war, of living in refugee camps, and of years of starvation that followed the UN's sanctions. The story begins with the historic betrayal by the French and British that deprived the Kurds of a country of their own. Nuri recounts living through the 2003 American invasion and the collapse of Hussein's totalitarian rule, and how, for a brief period, he felt optimism for the future. Then came bloody sectarian violence, and recently, the harrowing ascent of ISIS, which Nuri reported from Mosul.

Being Kurdish In A Hostile World was interesting to me in that it linked together several other books I have read over the past few years either about or set in Iraq. I had learned of Gertrude Bell's drawing up Iraq's borders in the 1920s (Daughter Of The Desert) - leaving the Kurds with no homeland - and of the Iran-Iraq war from the Iranian perspective (Iran: A Modern History), Agatha Christie's archaeological expeditions (Come Tell Me How You Live) and the unbelievable opulence of Saddam Hussein's palaces (The President's Gardens). I also knew from the American perspective of the American-led invasion (Imperial Life In The Emerald City) and had read a novel set during the resultant civil war (Frankenstein In Baghdad). Ayub Nuri's account of his life and work as a journalist and translator within Kurdistan and wider Iraq allowed me to connect the dots and to learn of the Kurdish people's plight.

This is inevitably a memoir of war and violence. The death tolls quoted actually left me numbed because I couldn't imagine these numbers of people dead or disappeared and Nuri's matter of fact statements are frequently shocking. He, of course, has pretty much only known war throughout his life and its normality for him is a poignant reminder of how much of our world hasn't been peaceful for decades.

I did find Nuri's writing style a tad too dry for a memoir. As a journalist he must be used to writing newspaper length reports, but I felt I wanted deeper insights for this book and to get to know some of the people better. I did get a stronger feel for individuals earlier when he talks about his childhood and adolescence, but once Nuri begins his translation work, I felt the narrative was disjointed - briefly recounting lots of events and travels when I would have preferred more space to be allocated to fewer incidents.

Overall however, this is certainly an eye-opening read. Seeing globally significant events such as the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime from the point of view of a person living in Iraq at the time - rather than reading Western-based reports - allowed me to understand more of the background. I can now easily empathise with the Kurds demands for an independent Kurdistan.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Ayub Nuri / Biography and memoir / Books from Iraq


  1. It's interesting how this one tied together a lot of your readings into one book so you now have a pieced together, bigger picture. Memoirs like this are hard to read. I know what you mean about sometimes them getting dry, but it could be better.

    1. The style was a little disappointing for me, but I don't think it would bother every reader. I've read lots of historical fiction recently so possibly wasn't in the right zone to fully click with Nuri's memoir.