A Thousand Farewells

***As part of an assignment for school, we were asked to write a blog post after reading Nahlah Ayed’s A Thousand Farewells.***

I don’t read as often as I should.
When I do, I enjoy reading about other people’s lives and their stories.
This was a different case.

A Thousand Farewells by Nahlah Ayed was sporadic, complex, nearly impossible to follow and could not get a hold of my interest.

She admits she’s no know-it-all, but the stories that weave back and forth into each other and then bounce off each other, the countless names of people she met and locations she worked in were all too much.

This memoir was more of a look into the life of the Middle East – not Ayed.

I appreciate the intensity of the details about her surroundings, and the people she met. The sandstorms they had issues travelling through, the bombs exploding 50 metres away from her apartment, and the mass graves layered with bones of bodies lost years ago were the kinds of details I could look forward to, but didn’t want to be lost in.

I was left wanting to know more about her and her emotional experience. What did you eat? How did you sleep in war torn countries? What did you dream about? What did you do on your days off? Were there days “off”? Did you take time for yourself? Did you grocery shop or buy new shoes? In a world so different than ours, with so many unknowns, was there no constant in life overseas? There wasn’t much to help me really connect to her, emotionally.

I did love the details about her family. Ayed learned much from her grandma and was proud she was working towards her GED. Her mother lived well while in Canada; nice clothes and jewelry. I sympathized with her when she resented her mother for making her wear the hijab once in Jordan.

Periods where she recalled walking through and over graves, bombs that blew up no matter where she was at the time, being attacked by a mob, having her radio and satellite telephone stolen, and relying so heavily on her knowledge of the language in Middle Eastern countries were major reasons I kept turning the pages.

Journalists as students and as professionals can really learn how to paint a picture of a scene that readers may not want to digest after reading this book. Ayed’s overseas experience opens a window to a world we are pretty unfamiliar with unless we’re particularly interested, or personally involved. Knowledge of the culture and language of foreign countries are strategic assets if planning to become a travelling journalist. This can’t be more obvious than when Ayed speaks in Arabic to navigate her way through the Middle East.

To compare this work to another non-fiction is unfair I think, due to the story being more about the Middle East than Ayed – but I’ll use Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson’s autobiography: My Life.

Every chapter and most of the terminology and nicknames were based on basketball. I enjoy playing the game, but I don’t follow the pros. I knew the names of the most famous players and I knew the basic terms from playing in high school, but I couldn’t visualize the plays he described unfolding on the court.

His game-day details ranged from pivotal games in his career to practices and high school games. This book covers a huge chunk of a man’s life. He knows the game and can tell you about it better than almost anyone – making him a perfect candidate to write about basketball (among other things). Ayed’s experience living in Jordan, and ability to speak Arabic were primary reasons she was able to write her book.

Her challenge was to sort through the languages, people, religions and countries involved. Johnson’s challenge was to explain the language of basketball, and the complications and implications of HIV and AIDS. There aren’t any shadows; he tells the reader exactly how it all happened. There are a lot of names in his book too, but there’s context to support each situation, and the chapters separate groups of players from family and high school friends. It was easy to know he was talking about playing in Boston against Larry Bird and the Celtics with a chapter titled “The Celtics”.

There’s definitely an audience for A Thousand Farewells – I’m not in it. This book is meant to be read by someone who wants to read it and has the time to invest in it. I did find it interesting to know that she persevered. This book was not written about “a war”. It wasn’t based on one trip to one country. She had a story she needed to tell and I respect that.

Thanks for the read. Stay tuned for your regularly scheduled programming….
-Enjoy the ride.

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