Last week I finished reading A Hundred and One Days by Asne Seierstad. Never before have I enjoyed a non-fiction book quite as much as I did this one. Seierstad is a Norwegian journalist who spent 101 days in Baghdad before, during, and “after” the war in 2004. What made this book so great was Seierstad’s way of weaving her frustrated observations and interviews with the Iraqi people she encountered with mythological and historical accounts of the “land between the rivers” as well as her own emotions of fear, obsession, and compassion. The book reads like prose as she describes with a fair simplicity the stories of the people she works with, and is simply, heart wrenching.
I picked up this book after buying another one of her books, The Bookseller of Kabul for my brother, Patrick’s birthday. Pat is a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps currently stationed at The Basic School in Quantico, VA. I am constantly impressed by Pat’s commitment to learning about today’s political situation and he is always reading military books describing the history of the Middle East, and previous military combat, amongst other things. Seierstad’s book caught my attention when looking for a book for Pat because it seemed to present a fresh viewpoint: non-American, non-military, non-political, and simply an account, as best can be given, of the people themselves living in the land we are currently engaged in. At the time I decided it was important for a future leader in the military to be as well rounded in the culture as possible; it was later that I realized it couldn’t hurt me either.
Those of you that know me well know that I loathe politics and all things partisan. I don’t trust the media and therefore never know what to believe. This book was not about politics or even the war. It was about the people. It was intriguing to read about the Saddam Hussein propaganda that was force fed to the Iraqis as well as the rehearsed responses the people gave Seierstad’s questions. Parts of the book where extremely hard to read, especially as an American with a long, proud militaristic family (four generations of marines). Seierstad never gave her opinion of the war, of September 11, or Saddam Hussein. I like to think she presented as non-biased an account as possible.
Which is refreshing. And inspiring. I appreciated learning about the individual stories as well as Seierstad’s personal experience. I can’t help but wonder if the same thing is possible with music. Could I learn to write music in such a reflective way as Seierstad’s writing? Could I portray people’s stories with sound rather than words? Maybe, if I can perfect the art of illustrating comic books through music, I can one day move on to more serious, and real stories.
For now, I’ll retreat back to fiction: Neil Gaimen’s Coraline followed by Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, with possible tunes to follow!