Title: In a Time of Monsters: Travels Through a Middle East in Revolt
Author: Emma Sky
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Returning to the UK in September 2010 after serving in Iraq as the political adviser to the top American general, Emma Sky felt no sense of homecoming. She soon found herself back in the Middle East traveling through a region in revolt.
In a Time of Monsters bears witness to the demands of young people for dignity and justice during the Arab Spring; the inability of sclerotic regimes to reform; the descent of Syria into civil war; the rise of the Islamic State; and the flight of refugees to Europe. With deep empathy for its people and an extensive understanding of the Middle East, Sky makes a complex region more comprehensible.
A great storyteller and observational writer, Sky also reveals the ties that bind the Middle East to the West and how blowback from our interventions in the region contributed to the British vote to leave the European Union and to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
I didn’t really know what to expect from this novel, but having read an excerpt I found myself drawn to this interesting, different person who was speaking of her return to the UK after spending a long time in the Middle East, and it felt so refreshing. I loved reading a book that describes landscapes and countries in the Middle East as places people might want to visit, instead of just known as being places of religious, political and military strife. Being half Iranian (though Iran certainly isn’t painted in a particularly positive light in this book), I have visited Iran on various occasions and was always surprised at how differently it’s viewed by people who have never actually been there themselves, compared to myself and my dad who grew up there.
The book is not really, as I first thought, a memoir including Emma’s time serving as ‘political adviser to the top American general’, but instead covers the time directly after this, when she returns to England and feels a deep sense of loss, and a lack of belonging. She decides to return to the Middle East and travel through some truly fascinating countries, to observe how changes in the Middle East in the 21st century have affected not just the politices of these nations, but the people who live there.
The book isn’t as narrative-based as I thought it would be. Emma relays her travels in places such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey, and many more countries, which I found incredibly interesting and which really made me want to explore that area more. She gives some brief background to the history of these places but (obviously) can’t go into too much detail, otherwise this book would just become a Middle Eastern history book. So, I think some prior background knowledge of this area of the world is probably best to enjoy In A Time of Monsters to its fullest – though readers without this would no doubt still find the descriptions of the people and way of life in these countries incredibly interesting. It doesn’t have much of a story narrative, instead focussing on where Emma went and who she spoke to, at what time – which makes it fit so well into the genres of travel/ current affairs.
I’d recommend this to anyone looking for an interesting, often matter of fact read about the Middle East, its relationship to the West, and Emma’s travels in these countries that boast so much rich history.
Many thanks to Readers First for providing a copy of this book on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.