FREE Shipping for Club Members
Not a member? Join Today!
"1001 Nights in Iraq" presents a human story that provides unique insight into a country and culture that we only get a hint of in the headlines. After surviving the horrors of the Iran-Iraq War, Shant was then forced to fight on the front lines of Desert Storm without being given the proper equipment, including a gun, but miraculously survived to be captured by the Americans and become a POW. He underwent starvation, heavy interrogations, and solitary confinement, but what broke him in the end was his love affair with a female American soldier. Yet throughout this whole ordeal, Shant never lost his respect for people, his faith in God, or his sense of humor.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 46.
- Review Date: 2007-04-16
- Reviewer: Staff
Kenderian, an Iraqi-American, traces his strange odyssey from American schoolboy to Iraqi soldier and U.S. prisoner of war in this unique and informative autobiography. Kenderian was a permanent U.S. resident when he traveled to Iraq in 1980 to visit his estranged father. While there, Saddam invaded Iran and closed the country's border, stranding Kenderian, who was eventually drafted into the Iraqi navy for three and a half years. After the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam invaded Kuwait in August 1990, recalling Kenderian to active duty before he could escape. When the landing craft he was on hit a mine in the Persian Gulf—ironically placed by his own unit—the survivors were picked up by an American frigate and the relieved Kenderian became a POW. Because of his flawless English, Kenderian was a favorite of his captors, worked informally as an interpreter and even became romantically involved with a female army reservist. After much diplomatic maneuvering, the self-described "man without a country" was granted "humanitarian parole" and returned to the U.S. Kenderian's decade-long ordeal is a bittersweet story, but after acknowledging his "really bad timing," he eschews the negative for an inspirational account of perseverance and survival. (June)
With green card, through Iraq
In the current focus on the sectarian violence in Iraq between Sunnis and Shiites, it's easy to forget that the country was once a more cosmopolitan place, with Jews and Christians living among the Muslims. Few are left, but small communities hang on, including about 20,000 Armenian Christians. Shant Kenderian's prosperous, well-educated family was once among them, but his mother didn't want to stay. After her marriage broke up, she took Shant and his brother to Chicago. Shant, at 15, found himself the lucky possessor of a green cardlegal U.S. residency.
But he missed his father and, at 17, made what turned out to be a serious error. He went back to Baghdad in 1980, just as Iraq's war with Iran began. The borders shut down. What happened next is the subject of 1001 Nights in Iraq, Kenderian's stirring memoir of his forced service in the Iraqi navy, his capture by the Americans during the First Gulf War in 1990-1991 and his ceaseless quest to return to the U.S.
Kenderian brings a rare perspective to his experiencesthat of an Armenian who can see both the Iraqi Muslims and the Americans with an outsider's objectivity. He describes the Iraqi military as an institution of brutality and incompetence, filled with clueless draftees understandably terrified of their government. The book's most exciting and tragic scenes come as Kenderian's patrol boat is blown up by an Iraqi minea "friendly fire" disaster made even worse when the wounded crew is abandoned by a Red Crescent vessel.
The Americans come off somewhat better, but Kenderian runs into as much stubborn ignorance as kindness during his weeks as a prisoner of war. A faction among his interrogators believe he must be a spy because he speaks English. But other Americans are decent and curious, and Kenderian even finds romance with a female truck driver.
Throughout, Kenderian is sustained by his belief in God and his faith that the Americans will finally see reason. Today, as we again struggle in Iraq, his story can remind all sides of their common humanity.
Anne Bartlett is a journalist in Washington, D.C.