Between Two Worlds: Review

Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam
(2005: Gotham Books)

Zainab Salbi and Laurie Becklund

by Deborah Lake

“…a personal intimate look at the soul-crushing impact of Hussein’s Iraq…Now, with her chilling memoir, the lies end.” The Washington Post

“More can be learned about Iraq from this book than from all the newscasts.” Alice Walker
“…exquisite and painful…” Ellen Chesler

Zainab Salbi lived a peaceful and privileged childhood in Baghdad. Then, her father was chosen to be Saddam’s personal pilot. She explains the dramatic and drastic changes wrought upon her parents, and indeed all of Iraq, by Hussein’s megalomania.

I don’t want to toss in a spoiler, but let me say this. Saddam’s sons were notorious rapists. They learned it at their father’s knee.

Saddam also “rebuilt” the hanging gardens of Babylon. That is to say, he destroyed them, and rebuilt them with bricks bearing his name.

The Iraqis are certainly worse off under US invasion and occupation than they were under Hussein. That does not excuse the fact that Hussein was a psychopathic monster who inflicted two generations worth of horror upon his people. It was JUST FINE with the USA, as long as he was OUR psychopathic monster.

Zainab was approximately eleven years old when her Bibi was tapped to serve as Hussein’s pilot. Hussein drew people into relationships against their will then used any means possible to keep them at heel. This destructive power eventually ended her parents’ marriage, which seemed quite happy to her as a child.

Families were ripped asunder. Anyone suspected of having “Persian” blood was deported. It mattered not the truth of their ancestry.

“My parents had zero interest in politics….because both schools and airlines were nationalized…my parents had to join the Baath Party like most Iraqis just to hold a job. There were several levels of membership…everyone came to know the difference between getting along and being a true believer. The entry level, endorser, was the least you could get away with…Later, of course, it became clear to us all that to rise in the ranks of the Baath Party, you had to write reports on other people, in other words, become a spy.”

Zainab’s co-author, Laurie Beckland, captures Zainab’s guileless narration of life under Hussein, and the horrors she endured both in Iraq, and when it became clear that she was in danger, after her arrival in the USA.

After her recovery, she founded the charity Women for Women International, which is one of the smartest and sanest charities I have encountered. Not only does the organization provide direct help for women and their children in war zones, they educate men in women’s rights. A pilot project in the Congo has yielded amazing results. Families now go from door to door, talking about their new happiness, now that the men know that they do not have to brutalize their wives.

I co-sponsor an Afghani woman. She has not written to me yet, but we can write a letter a month. The only constraints on correspondence occur because of the limited time of volunteer translators.

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