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The world is Rita Khoury’s oyster. The bright and driven daughter of a Boston-area Irish-Arab family that has risen over the generations from poor immigrants to part of the coastal elite, Rita grows up in a 1980s cultural mishmash. Corned beef and cabbage sit on the dinner table alongside stuffed grape leaves and tabooleh, all cooked by Rita’s mother, an Irish nurse who met her Lebanese surgeon husband while working at a hospital together. The unconventional yet close-knit family bonds over summers at the beach, wedding line-dances, and a shared obsession with the Red Sox. Rita charts herself an ambitious path through Harvard to one of the best newspapers in the country. She is posted in cosmopolitan Beirut and dates a handsome Palestinian would-be activist. But when she is assigned to cover the America-led invasion of Baghdad in 2003, she finds herself unprepared for the warzone. Her lifeline is her interpreter and fixer Nabil al-Jumaili, an equally restless young man whose dreams have been restricted by life in a deteriorating dictatorship, not to mention his own seemingly impossible desires. As the war tears Iraq apart, personal betrayal and the horrors of conflict force Rita and Nabil out of the country and into twisting, uncertain fates. What lies in wait will upend their lives forever, shattering their own notions of what they’re entitled to in a grossly unjust world.
Epic in scope, by turns satirical and heartbreaking, and speaking sharply to America’s current moment, Correspondents is a whirlwind story about displacement from one’s own roots, the violence America promotes both abroad and at home, and the resilience that allows families to remake themselves and endure even the most shocking upheavals.
Tim Murphy’s last book “Christodora” is one of the most memorable novels I have read in a long time. When I saw that he had another book being released, I was excited to delve into the it. “Correspondents” has some elements of the same style of book. It is a large, sweeping novel across several decades, involving a unique cast of characters and plots that are just devastating, but also very political. “Correspondents” has two main threads. The first is the journey of Rita Khoury, a Irish-Arab American who goes from college to being a correspondent in the middle east. When Bush invades Iraq after 9-11, she is sent to be a reporter. This is when the second main thread appears. Nabil al-Jumaili is a young man, obsessed with English novels, and through his cousin, he gets a job of being Rita’s interpreter. This novel is filled with danger (political and physical), and even though it took me a long time to get through this, the journey is just so rewarding, that I suggest anyone to take the same trip. What you will see if that “Correspondents” is an example of how there is no clear cut answer to any political situation, that regardless of whether you think you are doing the right thing, there are people who will disagree, who will get hurt in the process, and will think that the solutions are not nearly as simple as they seem.
Murphy’s biggest achievement in this novel is incorporating every side of an argument. We are not just shown one political side of the fallout to the War on Terrorism, but he shows several. It is like this is not Murphy’s vehicle to show the reader how he feels about things politically, but he is just a correspondent as well. He is just showing the reader all of the different sides, how all of them have flaws, and his job is just to illustrate the situation, not portray one side as completely wrong and one side completely right. He does a good job in telling the story in a way that illustrates there are several nuances to all of the situations, and this means nobody is 100% right. The objectivity is something that makes this a good novel. Honestly I stay away from Iraq stories most of the time, but this is one that I will remember as being influential and well structured.
Tim Murphy is criminally under-read. Based on the merits of this novel and “Christodora”, he has hit a home run with two straight novels. The world needs to take notice.
I received this as an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.