I would first like to say that the content of my blog post this week will be dedicated to Nahlah Ayed’s book, A Thousand Farewells. I had to read the book for my journalism class, and let me tell you, I love reading, but sometimes when someone tells me to read something, I instantly lose some desire to read it (I have no idea why this is. Maybe part of me is trying to being rebellious and hardcore).
With that being said- I really did like the book. After pages and pages of beautiful imagery, horrific conflict, and Ayed’s touching personal growth through journalism, I realized that A Thousand Farewells was more than just one woman’s story; it was an honest look at the Middle East through the muted lives of people in conflict. Ayed’s details of Middle Eastern living were what made the book so compelling to read. As someone who has never had the chance to visit the breathtaking site of Lebanon, or the beautiful city of Cairo, her description of the sights, sounds, and environment were truly what painted a figurative picture. This also worked in more gruesome settings, like when she described the Hillah mass grave excavation;
“One woman sat cross-legged on a diminutive hill overlooking Hillah’s mass grave, speaking to herself. For the duration of our visit that afternoon, the black-draped woman remained on her perch, rocking back and forth to the staccato of her monotone banter. She had run out of tears, but there were heaves syncopated with her movements” (page 123).
At the same time, the lack of photographs made the book a little less intriguing. I longed for pictures. Or a map. Or anything visual; either to show me where she was (because at times, it got a bit confusing), or to show a reporter’s perspective that others may never get to experience. At some parts of the book, I found myself getting disappointed there wasn’t an image to accompany her description. However, I realize that snapping pictures during a major conflict is not always everyone’s first priority, no matter how beautiful the Litani River is;
If I learned one thing from A Thousand Farewells, it’s that everyone has a story, and everyone’s story matters. Journalism is such an important, misunderstood medium that can tell us so much about people around the world. If it wasn’t for journalism, we would have never known about Eric Colton, the insanely quiet man who wrote a letter to the President, starting his message with, “Howdy!” If it wasn’t for journalism, I would have never asked my nonna about her life in Sicily during the Second World War, and where she had to hide in the vineyards to avoid bombs. If it wasn’t for journalism, Ayed wouldn’t have been able to breathe beautiful life into the stories of people who have been wadded together by Western media into one giant, ‘always-at-war’ mess;
“… a poetic portait of a Baghdad fountain lit against a dark sky and the iconic image of a worker galvanizing steel inside a pipe under construction… beauty in a window display of dozens of ladies’ shoes hanging on to a rack in disarray…” (150).
The majority of non-fiction that I read is true crime, and I can say that it’s not really anything close to A Thousand Farewells. Peter Vronsky, a Canadian author and filmmaker with a Ph.D. in criminal justice history and espionage, wrote one of my favorite true crime books, Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters. Throughout the book, he shares stories from different female murderers, detailing not only their gruesome, twisted sides, but also their hardships in life. Vronsky made monsters out to have human qualities, which is why the stories were so shocking and intriguing to me. In a similar sense, Ayed wrote about the Middle East and brought human qualities to people we typically just ‘group’ together because we know so little of their culture. She explained the people like people, not like separate news stories, and I guess that’s the reason the book affected me the way it did. It made me realize that good journalism isn’t just about details or facts, but a human element that can really draw a reader into a story. Because Ayed was able to connect so well with the people and places throughout her life, reading A Thousand Farewells was an interesting, moving, and most of all, authentic experience.