Book Review: Barefoot in Bagdad by Manal Omar

In spite of what follows, I want to assert that I liked this book.  I liked the author’s passion, her determination, and her perspective as an American Muslim of Arab (Palestinian) descent.

Manal Omar  told this story in a conversational tone. True to most conversations, she wove in and out of it, introducing diverse elements easily and leaving them just as easily. I would have appreciated more consistency and more focus upon her actual work.

The narrative picks up drama towards the end, when Manal’s safety becomes untenable and she must evacuate.

I would have liked to hear more about the women she helped. Much of the book is wasted on prolonged accounts of her moves into various apartments, and how she found suitable quarters for establishing offices.

I would have also liked to hear more about how the love story developed. She glosses over it, and one wonders, while reading the book, whether her interactions with any of the men take on romantic tones. Of course, as a Muslim on shaky ground— both politically and morally—she cannot admit to much of a romance. Still, her almost haphazard mention of it towards the end of the book rings only half-true.

This book held me fascinated throughout, but I confess to being a captive audience because of my own Middle-Eastern experience, and also because my son-in-law is Iraqi, and I want to read more about Iraq’s recent history through the eyes of people who have experienced it.

About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
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9 Responses to Book Review: Barefoot in Bagdad by Manal Omar

  1. Susanne says:

    Oh, this sounds interesting! I’ll have to look for it. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Marahm says:

    Suzanne, you can find it on Amazon. I just gave my copy to my daughter, otherwise I’d offer it to you.

  3. “I would have also liked to hear more about how the love story developed.”

    Not that I was interested, of course, but I remember reading about that aspect of her time in Baghdad in ‘Living Out Loud: Muslim Women Speak’. I can go back and read it if you care to know what happened.

  4. Marahm says:

    Hi, WM, nice to see you again!
    Thanks for mentioning “Living Out Loud…” I’ll look it up; I wouldn’t expect you to inconvenience yourself for something in which you have no interest, but if some spark were to stir in you, and you happened to learn something, I invite you to pass it on.

  5. WM says:


    Way to guilt-trip me into getting what you want! So anyway, while working for UNESCO she grows enamoured with someone she calls ‘Baghdad Beau’ (in her narrative the love-interests have quirky names), who turns out to a rugged Arab alpha-male who supports her decision to leave the UN over the oil-for-food programme. He promises to broach the subject of marriage with her family and, true to his word, he does. Well, kind of. Her mother isn’t crazy about his uneducated parents or his brood of siblings, and so Manal ends up getting engaged to somebody else by the time Mr Beau approaches her family. The new prospect doesn’t quite work out and she ends up getting married to some uber-jealous yah who doubts her virginity and things sort of go downhill from there…

    I think you’d like the book.

  6. Marahm says:

    That’s not at all how it goes in “Barefoot in Baghdad.” Now I’m more interested than ever. Thanks, WM, and if you went on a guilt trip, well… doesn’t that say more about you than about me?:)

  7. Hmm…methinks ‘artistic licence’ is involved.

    What does it say about me?

  8. Marahm says:

    Oh, it’s probably projection on my part, but I suspect you are less a misanthrope than an aspiring misanthrope. A Wahabi, yes, but a full-fledged misanthrope? In any event, we are all evolving, developing, and maturing (ideally), as we learn more about the world around us and in us.

  9. WM says:

    That’s very charitable, thank you. I think it’s all just pretense, myself.

    I hope so, anyway.

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