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Book Review: The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles by Hala Jaber

July 25, 2009

The Flying Carpet of Small MiraclesThough the book begins with the missile strike that leaves two young Iraqi girls orphaned, The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles is really Hala Jaber‘s story, a memoir of a remarkable journalist that avoids the egocentrism into which autobiography can easily fall. Her careful eye for the stories and suffering of the people around her in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq more than makes up for the occasionally lackluster and repetitive prose.

The first war Ms. Jaber reports on comes to her: she covers the Lebanese civil war from her hometown of Beirut. This is also where she meets and weds her British husband, a photographer. When they marry and move to London, she hopes to have children. Years later, despite various fertility treatments, this proves impossible, so she focuses still harder on her journalistic career.

This eventually leads her and her husband to an assignment in Iraq, beginning just before the “shock and awe” campaign. There she encounters the victims of war, including the aforementioned orphans, one of whom suffers severe burns all over her body. Ms. Jaber also met Ali Abbas, who was given artificial arms in the UK, twice: once in an Iraqi hospital right after the amputation and once years later when he couldn’t return to his education in the UK because his caretaker couldn’t get a visa.

Ms. Jaber’s response to such individuals helps set her apart from the stereotype of the red-blooded war reporter. She has every bit as much courage and, when necessary, swagger as her male counterparts; indeed she takes risks, such as meeting with insurgents, that set her apart from most of the press corps. Still, she hides neither her Muslim faith (with which she sometimes struggles) nor her empathy toward the war’s youngest victims, even if her feelings surprise her:

What no one—least of all myself—could have predicted was that however hard I tried to bury myself in the new role of action-girl foreign correspondent, something within me would resurface in Baghdad—my maternal instincts disarmingly intact.

Her dreams reflect the development of these emotions. The flying carpet of the title refers to a carpet she dreams of in her childhood that would take her where she longed to go. During the course of the tale this image changes so that it represents her hopes for the war’s orphans rather than for herself alone:

on the first night I dreamed of Zahra, my ambitions were not for myself. The carpet took her away, leaving my behind to pray that she would reach a modern hospital, a sterile ward, and skilled specialists.

In the end, the story is one of hope as well as of the challenges faced by those who work to make hope a reality for those who live through the horror of war. It is no wonder then that independent booksellers selected this title as an Indie Notable for July 2009.

The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles: A Woman’s Fight to Save Two Orphans by Hala Jaber. Riverhead Books, 2009. 282 pp.

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