Veteran Canadian journo Terry Glavin pens an epic essay for the Ottawa Citizen about the rupturing violence from Tunis to Kabul and everywhere in between that doubles as a book review of Is This Your First War? by Michael Petrou, Arab Spring Dreams by Sohrab Ahmari and Nasser Weddady, and my own new book, Where the West Ends.
Here is what he said about Where the West Ends:
There is such a thing as “the West,” and Michael Totten explores its frontiers and the confounding landscapes beyond in Where The West Ends. If there is one place where that event occurs as sharply as it did during the Cold War days, in the vicinity of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Totten reckons it’s the six-metre-high separation wall at the edge of Jerusalem, at the boundary with the West Bank. But the rest of the frontier is almost always ambiguous. It’s vast and nebulous and disorienting, in the same way that Byzantine Christendom bleeds away into Ottoman Islam, in time and space, the farther one travels east across Turkey.
If Petrou is a bit of Ernest Hemingway with a touch of George Orwell, Totten is part Paul Theroux with a dose of Hunter S. Thompson. He all but throws himself into the creepy post-Soviet expanses and the mountainous nooks and crannies of the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East, with glimpses of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. But Totten’s terrain isn’t Thompson’s bat country in the desert just outside Barstow on the road to Las Vegas, or the countryside Theroux sees through bloodshot eyes from a train in India. The stuff of Where the West Ends is more interesting and strange.
It’s also as good as “travel writing” gets, and it is a bit of a departure for Totten because it isn’t the war reporting that takes up so much of his two previous books. The Road to Fatima Gate chronicles Totten’s observations from Lebanon, where he lived and reported on the Cedar Revolution, the Israeli-Hezbollah war and Hezbollah’s subsequent and slow suffocation of Lebanese democracy. In the Wake of the Surge is a synthesis of Totten’s seven extended visits to Iraq during the command of U.S. general David Petraeus. Unlike most books that interrogate or “problematize” the idea of the West, whenever Where the West Ends is funny, it’s on purpose. The parts where you find yourself laughing are the parts where you’re supposed to. Another thing: there are real people in this book, and they’re carefully introduced and allowed to say what they think. They’re not just caricatures of their gender or cultural or religious identities, and when it’s the “Muslim World” Totten is traversing, the laws of gravity actually don’t work any differently than they do in the “West.”