The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq

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The 2006 Lettre Ulysses Award Longlist


There are tons of literary awards out there, but last year I discovered one that caught my interest because of its international and journalistic focus. The Lettre Ulysses Award celebrates book-length reporting, and does not limit its scope to any single language or geographic area. The result is that a richly varied list of books is considered. Last year’s award went to Alexandra Fuller for her account of her travels with a white, African mercenary, Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier. This year’s longlist is out and once again it’s very eclectic:Die Hundeesser von Svinia (The Dog Eaters of Svinia) by Karl-Markus Gauss (Austria)The People on the Street by Linda Grant (Great Britain)Der Smaragdkonig. Victor Carranza und das grune Gold der Anden (The Emerald Czar: Victor Carranza and the Green Gold of the Andes) by Jeanette Erazo HeufelderThe Deurbanization of Lvov & A Week in Kishinev, part of a series of texts on the decline of post-Soviet cities by Igor Klekh (Russia)Pais de plomo. Cronicas de guerra (Country of Bullets. War Diaries) by Juanita Leon (Colombia)The Story of “Freezing Point” by Li Datong (China)Operacao Araguaia: os arquivos secretos da Guerrilha (Operation Araguaia: The Secret Archives of a Guerrilla War) by Tais Morais & Eumano Silva (Brazil)Voyage aux pays du coton. Petit precis de mondialisation (Journey to the Lands of Cotton: A Brief Manual of Globalisation) by Erik Orsenna (France)The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq by George Packer (USA)Beirut shi mahal: an Egyptian in Lebanon by Youssef Rakha (Egypt)Chasing the Monk’s Shadow: A Journey in the Footsteps of Xuanzang by Mishi Saran (India)An Iraqi in Paris by Samuel Shimon (Iraq)Biz Burada Devrim Yapiyoruz Sinyorita (We are Making a Revolution Here, Signorita) by Ece Temelkuran (Turkey)Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy by Manjushree Thapa (Nepal)Faith at War: A Journey on the Frontlines of Islam, from Baghdad to Timbuktu by Yaroslav Trofimov (Ukraine)The Long MarchGenius loci by Peter Vail (Russia)Cosecha de mujeres: Safari en el desierto mexicano (Harvest of Woman. Safari in the Mexican Desert) by Diana Washington Valdez (Mexico/USA)’What Kind of God’: A Survey of the Current Safety of China’s Food by Zhou Qing (China)

Excerpts of Pulitzer Winners and Finalists


Comcast’s Internet service was been down for about 36 hours which has made blogging difficult. Now that my day job is officially a work from home gig, I rely on steady Internet access like never before, and considering the amount of time I spend blogging and using the Internet for pretty much all of the information consumption in my life, going without is next to impossible for me. I’d say that’s a little scary, but it’s been like this for several years now so I’m pretty used to it. At any rate, hopefully I’m back up and running for good, no thanks to Comcast – it took three phone calls to them and 12 hours before they could even confirm that an outage was causing my problem. Luckily, Mrs. Millions was kind enough to let me use her office for work, otherwise I would have been really screwed.In the meantime, the Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday. To me, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction is the most predictable of all literary prizes as it usually goes to the most well-known American literary work of the previous year, especially if the book deals with American themes, namely the American immigrant/Melting Pot idea. American history is usually an important theme as well. This year I figured E.L. Doctorow’s The March was a lock, both because it sold well and because it’s about an iconic episode in American history, General Sherman’s great march during the Civil War. Instead, Doctorow’s book was named a finalist, but the much less well-known, but similarly named and themed book March by Geraldine Brooks won the prize. March is about the Civil War as well, but the book is not simply a fictional account of a historical event, rather March tells the story of Mr. March, the father who in Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women is away fighting in the Civil War. This isn’t the first time that what Booksquare calls a remix has won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In 1999 Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, a “remix” of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway won the prize.Listed below are this years winners and finalists in all the “Letters” categories. I’ve included links to excerpts and other interesting material where available.FictionWinner: March by Geraldine Brooks – excerptThe March by E.L. Doctorow – excerptThe Bright Forever by Lee Martin – excerptDrama:No Winner: (I rather like that the Pulitzer unlike most other prizes is unafraid to not pick a winner if they don’t feel there’s a worthy book in a category – though, admittedly, I’d be surprised to see them not pick a fiction winner any time soon.)Miss Witherspoon by Christopher Durang – New York Times reviewThe Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow by Rolin Jones – New York Times reviewRed Light Winter by Adam Rapp – New York Times reviewHistory:Winner: Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky – Bookslut reviewNew York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan by Jill Lepore – excerptThe Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln by Sean Wilentz – interviewBiography:Winner: American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin – excerptThe Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – excerptThe Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism by Megan Marshall – Megan Marshall at SlatePoetry:Winner: Late Wife by Claudia Emerson – a poemAmerican Sublime by Elizabeth Alexander – excerptElegy on Toy Piano by Dean Young – excerpt (pdf)General Non-fiction:Winner: Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins – (very short) excerptPostwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt – Judt in The NYRBThe Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq by George Packer – excerpt

George Packer’s good book on Iraq


New Yorker writer, George Packer has written some impressive articles on the Iraq war over the past few years (rivaling those of another favorite, Jon Lee Anderson.) Of late, I’ve been hearing good things about Packer’s new book on the subject, The Assassins’ Gate. From a Washington Post review:How did this happen? How could the strongest power in modern history, going to war against a much lesser opponent at a time and place of its own choosing, find itself stuck a few years later, hemorrhaging blood and treasure amid increasing chaos? Americans will be debating the answer for decades, and as they do, they are unlikely to find a better guide than George Packer’s masterful new The Assassins’ Gate.The Post will also be hosting a live discussion with Packer today at 3pm Eastern.

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