Imperial Life in the Emerald City
This is part one of two (part two
to be published soon here) on a series on author Rajiv Chandrasekaran. This novel takes a critical look at the Green Zone, the base of civilian authority in Iraq. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was a transitional authority in Iraq following America's invasion of Iraq. Chandrasekaran doesn't truly bring politics into his writing (he doesn't take a side on whether the U.S. should or shouldn't have invaded Iraq), yet the nature of this non-fiction account is a look at the colossal failure of the civilian authority in Iraq. You can't help but sense his opinion on the mistakes they were making, one after the other. It is truly eye opening.
As the New York Times Book Review wrote, "The reality of Iraq is much more frightening than a bad acid trip, but the writing about this continuing fiasco has been cleareyed and sober, and all the more powerful for it." Chandrasekaran outlines the ineptitude and arrogance of those in charge, and the removed reality of life inside the Green Zone. The Green Zone was a total bubble, cut off from wartime realities, "where the task of reconstructing a devastated nation competed with the distractions of a Little America...Most Iraqis were barred from entering the Emerald City for fear they would blow it up." (X) Read an excerpt here to get a sense of how the book plays out; many short stories about the CPA, those who worked in it, Iraqis who tried to bring change, etc. Preluding every chapter or two is a scene of life in the Green Zone. One such scene, XI, tells the story of a young CPA staffer who typed up a joke on his computer about life in the Green Zone, sent it to a few of his friends, and by the end of the week every CPA staffer had scene it. The joke is: "Why did the Iraqi chicken cross the road?"with answers from the CPA, Halliburton (oil company), Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (extremely influential religious leader), U.S. Army Military Police, Peshmerga (armed Kurdish fighters), Al-Jazeera, CIA, and Translators. The joke-CPA response was: "The fact that the chicken crossed the road shows that decision-making authority has switched to the chicken in advance of the scheduled June 30th transition of power. From now on, the chicken is responsible for its own decisions." (282). Overall, the book gives you a clear picture of what went wrong in Iraq and lets you form your own opinions on what the United States should have done. Thanks to my dad for making me read this. Rating: ★★★★★