The Latest in Paper

In his clear, descriptive style, Christian Parenti delivers not only the now-familiar voice of the "embedded" journalist, but also that of one who is intelligent and curious enough to seek out the resistance.

The Latest in Paper

The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq

by Christian Parenti

New Press, 224 pp., $14.95

As President George W. Bush told us in early December, "our efforts to advance freedom in Iraq are driven by our vital interests and our deepest beliefs. America was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and we believe that the people of the Middle East desire freedom as much as we do." Well, whoever "we" is should pick up Parenti's third book, recently released in paperback, in which the author describes his three trips to the war zone as a correspondent for The Nation. Alas, the freedom Parenti finds is not what our president apparently had in mind. It is dawn-to-dusk curfews enforced by freaked-out GIs in barbed-wire-wrapped villages and by the smoldering threat of kidnappings and carjackings in parts of Baghdad. Meanwhile, the Coalition Provisional Authority, which Parenti describes as a "blur of pleated khakis, oxford shirts, laptops, backpacks, and well-coiffed blonde hair," holes up in Saddam's air-conditioned palace making decisions on behalf of the Iraqi people as ankle-deep sewage fills the wide boulevards of the ancient capital city – despite those billion-dollar no-bid contracts awarded to Halliburton and Bechtel. In his clear, descriptive style, Parenti delivers not only the now-familiar voice of the "embedded" journalist, but also that of one who is intelligent and curious enough to seek out the resistance. It is here where The Freedom's defining moments are found, in adrenaline-filled interviews with Madhi fighters who describe Improvised Explosive Devices as "rat poison for the American rats" and with a powerful sheik whose grassroots governance, Parenti writes, offers the people the closest thing to progress. But it is Parenti's compassion that separates him from the thrill-seeking war reporters who race from death scene to death scene with little regard for the people they pass along the way. His skillful attention to human detail, as well as his ability to gain the trust of those who have good reason to be wary, allow him to successfully bear witness to the strange kind of freedom found in Iraq well over a year into the occupation. As his 26-year-old translator Akeel says in the book's epigraph: "Ah, the freedom. Look, we have the gas line freedom, the looting freedom, the killing freedom, the rape freedom, the hash-smoking freedom. I don't know what to do with all this freedom." – Diana Welch

Also This Week ...

The 14th annual Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest is well under way, with each of the approximately 550 submissions getting several discerning reads leading up to our announcement of the winners on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 7pm, at a BookPeople reception that is free and open to the public. The first-place story will be published in the Chronicle the following day, while it, along with second- and third-place winners as well as our two honorable mentions, will be published online for eternity. Although our final judges are yet to be formally announced – we'll keep you posted – it should be said that James Frey and J.T. Leroy will not be among them. I had put in calls to their people a while back, but ... you know how these things go. For more information about the contest, see and stay tuned to this space.

Notable Upcoming Events of Interest ...

BookPeople: Nick Laird (Utterly Monkey), January 27; Galt Niederhoffer (A Taxonomy of Barnacles), January 31; Robert Jensen (The Heart of Whiteness), February 1; and Jen Trynin (Everything I'm Cracked Up to Be), February 8.

University of Texas: August Kleinzahler, poet and author of Cutty, One Rock: Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained (see the Chronicle's review), will read at the Michener Center (he's currently serving his second stint at the university); on March 23, look for Jonathan Lethem.

Texas State University: Starting February 18, the Alkek Library will host "La Vida Brinca: Life Jumps," an exhibit of Bill Wittliff's photography collected in UT Press' book of the same name. On March 25, there will be a reception and booksigning. For more information, see Meanwhile, at the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, Darlene Harbour Unrue, author of, well, Katherine Anne Porter: The Life of an Artist (see the Chronicle's review), will read on February 7, followed by Abraham Verghese on February 24 and poet Adam Zagajewski in April. For more, see

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The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq, Christian Parenti, New Press

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