This is not a deep and meaningful account of the U.S.'s epic belly flop. This is one smart, resourceful older woman sharing what it was like to report from Saddam Hussein's corrupt dictatorship in its last days and then live through U.S. bombing and an apparently random shelling of the journalist's hotel once the Marines finally arrived.
I remember liking listening to Garrels reporting in the run up to the invasion: she never sounded convinced by the Bush boys bluster. And she wasn't, though having lived through the last days of the Soviet Union in Moscow, she had a clear slant on the vicious, collapsing dictatorship all around her. She states her own views gently:
Garrels did listen and record. In light of subsequent events, what Iraqis told her seems frighteningly prophetic:
I also love how she put an older woman's peculiar combination of sexuality-free invisibility combined with accumulated experience to work for her reporting. On the one hand, she passed, marginally, as "one of the boys" when dealing with officialdom and technology. Yet on the other hand, she was able to hear the stories of Iraqi women who might have been hidden from men. This reporter knew who she was, so she could see what she saw with much less self-concern than might have gripped a young up-and-comer struggling to establish her journalistic chops.
Garrels also profited from her neither fish nor fowl status as a non-commercial radio reporter. Her husband, Vint, in one of the "Brenda [Starr] Bulletins" he emailed to their worried friends, gave a clear description of her wonderfully anomalous status as the old woman of a contingent of no more than 16 Americans who stuck out the invasion in Baghdad.
Above all, I loved the interplay in this between book between Garrels' narrative and Vint's bulletins. (I do have more experience than most Americans with having a loved one make themselves a voluntary witness to a war.) At one point Vint took Garrels off the email list because he didn't want to overburden her in the heat of battle; later he sent her large batch of these letters all at once. Anne Garrels knew what she was getting:
This "war reporting" is as well a lovely picture of a mature relationship. The disastrous details of the U.S. invasion have sunk into history, but Garrels' book remains very worth a read.