Late for Tea at the Deer Palace by Tamara Chalabi is a family history/memoir that reads like a James Michener novel of the last 100 years of Iraqi history -- by following the ups and downs of the Chalabi family. This is a must-read for anyone the least bit interested in the Iraqi situation.
The story begins before Iraq: when Mesopotamia was a province of the Ottoman Empire. At the beginning of the 19th century this had been the case for over 400 years. While thousands of years ago, this area had been the cradle of western civilization, by the early 1900s, it was a patchwork of tribal territories between the Ottoman powers in Turkey and the Persian powers in Iran. While predominantly Arab (vs Persian) and Muslim (vs Christian), the popular sentiment was up for grabs with with minorities favoring the West (Britain or US) or the East (Communists), or a smattering of other allegiances, such as smaller religious groups and fascism.
By this time everything was in place for today's conflicts: Kurds, Sunni domination of Shi'a, and even oil. The story opens with World War I and the British liberation of Iraq, with eerie parallels to the US liberation almost 100 years later.
Through the eyes of the well-to-do, connected, Shi'a family, the book traces the ups and downs, successes and disappointments of the Iraqi middle class. The role of the west is especially cyclical and disturbing, with the interest in oil reserves and ignorance/disregard of the people.
Overall this is a richer picture of Iraq then available in news - both fascinating and enlightening, as all history should be.
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