Award-winning journalist Christina Lamb’s collection of stories brings to life parts of the world, but also the personal impact of her work.
All right, so I haven’t been reading a lot of romance lately. (That’s why this site says reading “mostly” and not “just” romance down under!) As per usual I found myself wandering through a bookshop, randomly picking up a book and not putting it down. This is the real test for me. If I want to—no, have to—keep going after the first few pages, it needs to be bought. Such was the case with this book.
Small Wars Permitting: Dispatches from Foreign Lands was written by Christina Lamb, who won the British Press Award for Foreign Correspondent of the Year in 2007. She’s written pieces for the Financial Times, Time and the Sunday Telegraph, just to name a few.
Lamb started her career when she finished university, and her first piece was on attending a wedding in Pakistan—before it imploded, exploded, and became implicated interrorist activities involving a man named Osama—that happened to be the wedding of Benazir Bhutto, later the first woman prime minister of Pakistan. By a combination of sheer determination and luck, Lamb has managed to cover most of the major events that have occurred in recent history, most of which are documented in this book.
A mixture of history, a little biography and current events, this book makes things that have happened around us interesting. If you’re over the repetitive CNN reports but need some information on how parts of the world have turned out the way they have, this is the perfect introduction. Lamb covers Pakistan, Afghanistan and the beginnings of what influenced and may have led to terrorism starting from the 70s. There’s also the war in Iraq, a smattering of what’s going on in Africa, and some Brazil for good measure. Along the way she falls in love and has a son.
Lamb is very relatable, which is a great part of why I liked this book. Somehow, despite being this super journalist + I-don’t-know-how-she-does-it-type mum I can still picture her as the somewhat dorky but wild grammar school girl who ended up being the first person in her family to go to university—and to Oxford no less. Some of the most striking impressions she has left on me are not from any of her adventures around the world but from her narrating about her everyday, non-working life: how she prepared for her son’s 7th birthday, having just returned from Afghanistan in bruises; or how, when he was a toddler, every time he saw her he used to just say goodbye, because that’s all she seemed to do—lleave. Despite her extraordinary life, like all of us she had to balance different demands, too.
Reality hits you hard when you read this book. There’s so much going on in the world that we don’t get to see and experience, and Lamb does a great job of bringing it to us. Each person that she meets almost feels like you’ve met them too, and their lives touch yours for a moment, just as a good storyteller is meant to do.
Yay or Nay?
I would recommend this book for the excellent storytelling. It’s not just a collection of articles and adventures, but a life—played out and interspersed with what the author has been reporting. If you don’t appreciate war or violence, some of it may put you off, but it’s not just about that. The story is engaging, and it gives good insight on what is going on in this world.
Title: Small Wars Permitting: Dispatches from Foreign Lands
Author: Christina Lamb
Release date: April 2008
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Format: B format