Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Review of "A Thousand Farewells" by Nahlah Ayed

This post is a review of the book A Thousand Farewells and is part of a school assignment.

Before I begin, I would like to thank my journalism teachers for incorporating A Thousand Farewells into the course. I can honestly say I never would have picked up this book had it not been a requirement for our class, and therefore would never have experienced the pleasure of reading it.

If I had to describe this book in one word, I would say it is fascinating. Full of information and stories of people from different parts of the world, there isn't a bit of information that is repeated in this book. There isn't enough room to do so.

What really works in this book are Nahlah Ayed's writing skills. After years of being a journalist and writing for various papers, Ayed has developed a writing style that is clear and intellectual. She is able to explain complex situations with just the right amount of background information, without confusing readers or boring them with a history lesson.

What doesn't work in the book is how sometimes Ayed would look back on previous experiences while describing a current experience. A few times throughout the book, Ayed would be in the middle of a story about protests or traveling while in a location, and would then explain to the readers her experience in a similar situation years ago in a different location. The change in location, time, and culture would often leave me confused as to what place she was currently in and I often found myself getting people mixed up because of this.

Although Ayed does a great job telling stories of growing up and traveling as a journalist, the book needed a small diagram of her family tree and a few pages of the book devoted to a map of the areas she reported in over the years. A timeline of her adventures would also have been nice to see. While the book was understandable without these additions, I believe a family tree, a few simple maps, and a timeline would have helped readers to understand her stories and her overall experience more. Visual aid can mean all the difference for some learners, and many of my classmates did have to look up maps in order to visualize the locations Ayed was talking about.

I think that journalists can learn a lot from this book, especially those reporting in foreign lands or countries that are at war. It is unlikely a journalist can learn how to deal with seeing guns and other weapons while reporting, but Ayed's stories can help prepare them for it and perhaps reassure them. This book also stresses the importance of respecting people and their culture and heritage, and also frequently mentions the benefits of knowing the language of the country. The book also informs journalists on how the media is regarded in some parts of the world.

There are few non-fiction books that I have read over the years, but one that sticks out in my mind is Waiting for the Macaws. It was a book I read for my Writing on the Environment class and has a few similarities to A Thousand Farewells. The author, Terry Glavin, uses a combination of research and personal experiences to tell stories about the decline of various species. Like Ayed, Glavin is passionate about the book's subject (the loss of diversity in the world), and has a clear and informative writing style that is educational, but not boring. This is no surprise to me since Glavin is also a Canadian journalist.

Overall A Thousand Farewells was an entertaining read that has greatly increased my knowledge on some of the conflicts in the middle east for the past 50 years. But while I enjoyed reading Ayed's stories of being a journalist and reporting in middle eastern countries, I now know that I do not want to be a foreign correspondent. Ever. I have never wanted to travel much (Walt Disney World is about as adventurous as I can get) and I don't believe I have the courage to travel to a foreign land and live in a dangerous area.

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