Saturday, July 12, 2008

Non-Fiction Monday

Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations
by Georgina Howell

I could not put this book down once I got past the first few opening chapters. This woman was born at a time in England when women of her class were schooled to be wives, mothers and hostesses. Gertrude ended up unmarried, fiercely independent and a major player in middle-eastern politics during and after World War One. She helped give birth to the independent Arab nations of Iraq and Saudi Arabia after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire's control despite the British government's unwillingness to fulfill this promise. She spoke fluent Arabic and knew the political and social alliances of all the tribes in the area after having travelled extensively, often at great risk to her life.
This is also the story of a flesh and blood woman who is brought to her knees by a passion for a man she cannot marry and with whom she cannot give herself physically. Instead, she sets off on a desert voyage through what is now mostly modern-day Iraq that had meant the demise of most (male) travellers before her. This dangerous voyage is her homage to the man she cannot have. It is a defiant act of stubbornness and a breathtaking read!
This book is also a must read at this time as it explains the intricacies and complexities of tribal and religious alliances in the Middle East as well as the role of the West in the making of nations with which we now find ourselves inextricably connected.
This, obviously, is not a children's book, but I think her tale could be of interest to students and the accounts of her run-ins with Bedouin tribes could be read out loud. It certainly is an inspiring book for girls!
There is a complete online database of her photographs, letters, and diary entries at The Gertrude Bell Project.

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