Praise for The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday:
“[I]f the Middle East is an enigma to you, this book can help you unravel it. It's a terrific book written by the former New York Times bureau chief in Cairo who grew up in Libya and speaks Arabic.”
“Gives the reader a window into the private debates among the intelligentsia and political classes of the Middle East.... Neil MacFarquhar is that rare and wonderful thing, a Middle East correspondent who not only speaks Arabic but also grew up in the region.... The result is an intelligent and fascinating romp full of anecdotes, acid asides and conversations with everyone from dissidents to diplomats and liberal religious sheikhs, and even a Kuwaiti woman with a sex-advice column.”
“A veteran New York Times correspondent’s account of the changing Middle East yields the kind of insights that never make the front page. Our reviewer, Graeme Wood, wrote: ‘...[MacFarquhar] speaks Arabic, and at one point mentions that one of his favorite Arabic words is tabaruj, a multivalent noun that means “displaying one's charms” (and, when applied to women, connotes feminine guile and hussydom). MacFarquhar's is one of the few books that really illustrate the charms of the Middle East and gives a sense of containing not just multitudes of masked gunmen and fanatics but multitudes tout court.’”
“Unlike many correspondents Mr. MacFarquhar speaks Arabic and shows an appreciation for the language, its poetry and political rhetoric. He uses compelling characters effectively to illustrate larger themes and forces at play in the region....
“Few in the West pay attention to these arguments within Islam—or to the daily tribulations of homegrown reformers—and that is the ultimate strength of this book. Mr. MacFarquhar has provided a sobering and heartbreaking record of these quiet struggles.”
“In this engaging and fact-filled reporter’s memoir, Neil MacFarquhar successfully walks a fine line.... He’s a diligent reporter with eclectic interests. He drinks beer with a German brewer in Yemen. He is detained by regular police in Saudi Arabia and sips tea with the secret police in Egypt....
“For those who care about the Middle East and want to start listening to weak but growing voices calling for reform and modernization on local rather than Western terms, MacFarquhar’s account is a fine place to begin.”
“Neil MacFarquhar is that rare and wonderful thing, a Middle East correspondent who not only speaks Arabic but also grew up in the region.... The result is an intelligent and fascinating romp full of anecdotes, acid asides and conversations with everyone from dissidents to diplomats ... even a Kuwaiti woman with a sex-advice column....
“It's a testament to MacFarquhar's deep background knowledge and the lightness of his touch that complex issues ... are distilled into clear exposition without ever being oversimplified or dumbed down.
“But MacFarquhar has written much more than just a very good primer to the region. His real achievement is to give the reader a window into the private debates among the intelligentsia and political classes of the Middle East.”
“[MacFarquhar's] survey of the modern Middle East is concerned with more than just the typical tales of conflict, death and revenge so often peddled by foreign correspondents. With both an insider's affection and an outsider's perspective, he paints a richer, more subtle portrait of the region through miniprofiles of the people, groups and agencies (big and small) that influence daily Arab life—Hizballah, al-Jazeera, Saudi clerics and an influential Lebanese chef, among others. As a result, stories of the hateful, misogynist policies of the Saudi religious establishment and the dark deeds of the Jordanian secret police are more than balanced out by those of brave, modern reformers. By the book's
end, MacFarquhar's hope for the region's future has become contagious.”
“[MacFarquhar's book] aims—and succeeds—to animate the news with characters and compassion.... [H]e recalls us to our shared humanity, quoting Robert Kennedy’s injunction to ‘recognize the full human equality of all our people.’”
“MacFarquhar boasts a familiarity with the Middle East few Western journalists can match.... [His] affection for the Middle East is obvious, though it does not blind him to its manifold ills.”
“Readers looking for a nuanced, sophisticated understanding of the region's complexities and contradictions will find MacFarquhar's book well worth their time.”
“MacFarquhar keeps his touch light as he examines serious issues, but he is a knowledgeable and wise observer. For anyone wanting a thoughtful and penetrating appraisal of the Arab world today, this is an exceptionally valuable book.”
“Filled with first-rate analysis leavened by plenty of color.”
“MacFarquhar's achievement is to portray a region in full, and to give the accurate impression that there are many more stories left untold than told.... MacFarquhar's is one of the few books that really illustrate the charms of the Middle East and gives a sense of containing not just multitudes of masked gunmen and fanatics but multitudes tout court. In a region where clichés grow even more readily than hash, this book is no minor achievement. ”
“The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday couldn't possibly be as wonderful as its title. But Neil MacFarquhar's memoir of his years as a Middle East correspondent for the AP and the New York Times is awfully good. This isn't the Middle East of politics and diplomacy and murder and mayhem (although they do make appearances) so much as a vivid portrait of societies and cultures wildly different from our own and from those we usually read about in the papers.”
“In his engrossing new book, former New York Times Cairo bureau chief Neil MacFarquhar takes a sledgehammer to monolithic views and stereotypes of the Middle East by profiling dissidents, rebels and bloggers who are battling repressive regimes from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Jordan.”
“While a glut of recent books on the Middle East have addressed Western perspectives on the region, this excellent, well-rounded book emphasizes questions Arabs ask themselves.”
“A sly, knowledgeable look at the changes in Arab mores and politics since the 1970s, from a New York Times journalist with extensive experience in the region.... Having to navigate among oil wealth, repression and the simmering resentment of a struggling populace continues to plague the Arab states, stifling what MacFarquhar believes—and convincingly argues—they urgently need: new ideas, technology and innovation. A humane, well-reasoned investigation of the Arab countries of the Middle East and the tremendous vitality of their inhabitants.”
“[MacFarquhar's] lively, anecdotal book describes a world most Americans never see.”
“As an Arabic speaker, MacFarquhar’s greatest strength is his ability to consume the local media, and he mines that vibrant, varied, and contentious landscape to powerful effect.”
“In Media Relations, [MacFarquhar] creates a portrait of the region like no other. You know you're reading something special from the earliest pages.”
“The openness and immediacy of his on-site reporting reveals the diversity in country and culture as he explores current Arab attitudes toward the U.S., the oppression of women, the power of the Internet and satellite TV, the stifling control of the secret police, and much more. The professor forbidden to pluck her eyebrows sums it up: ‘They focus on the trivial ... so we don't worry about the big things.’ Those big things will grab American readers, from religion's blocking of science to U.S. expediency in backing the powerful and, always, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
“MacFarquhar's parting prescriptions call for the U.S. to revitalize civil society in the Middle East. Reformers would do well to seek help from the individuals profiled in this book.”
Praise for The Sand Café:
“The Sand Café is what Ernie Pyle left out of Here is Your War — the funny parts. MacFarquhar does the same thing for war reporting that Pyle did for war. He shucks the glamour off it and gives its footsoldiers faces. G.I. Joe loved Ernie. Broadcast Betty and Dateline Dave will hate Neil for the same reason. He tells the truth.”
“You know the old saying, those who love the law and sausages shouldn't inquire into how either is made. With his unsparing roman à clef about the foibles of foreign correspondents, Neil MacFarquhar adds a third item to this list: the news. As a former member of the Dhahran press corps, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry as MacFarquhar's incoming rounds hit their targets: arrogant Saudis, manipulative military press officers, ego-driven reporters. A warning to fellow hacks: read this book, but put your body armor on first.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning author of
March and Nine Parts of Desire
“The Sand Café is a lively, funny firsthand account of what went on more than a decade ago in the Arabian desert when the cameras and tape recorders went off. The Arabic-speaking Mr. MacFarquhar, a New York Times reporter who was the paper's Cairo bureau chief for nearly five years, knows more about the Middle East than most of his colleagues combined. He has plenty of sharp details, from the cynicism and cruelty of Arab nationalist ideologues to the glamour and brilliance of Arab women.... The Sand Café joins that rare genre of novels whose picture of the Middle East, and where Middle Easterners and Westerners meet, rings truer than most nonfiction.”
“Set in Saudi Arabia after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, MacFarquhar's depiction of the life and work, the pettiness, jealousies and corrosive frustration of the press corps is so accurate that it's hard to brand as satire....
“Angus, his lover and her lover use each other for distraction and comfort, knowing they'll move on. There will be, as they keep telling themselves, other wars. And the waiting for the story, not the waiting for each other, is what really gives The Sand Café its dramatic tension and comic relief....
“MacFarquhar's book, albeit fiction, exhumes with great wit and disquieting accuracy those long-forgotten headlines and many of the true stories behind them. He recounts what [Evelyn] Waugh would call the ‘heroic legends’ of hackdom, 'of the classic scoops and hoaxes; of the confessions wrung from hysterical suspects; of the innuendo and intricate misrepresentations, the luscious, detailed inventions that composed contemporary history.’ And few writers since Waugh have done it any better.”
Foreign Correspondent Neil MacFarquhar “captures the ferocious absurdity of the Gulf War in The Sand Café.”
“Media junkies will love all the details; others might lose patience with the day-to-day, mundane activities of journalists, even those reporting from war zones. But when the war looms closer, the novel takes on a dramatic tone laced with fear and a sense of doom.”
“Let me confess my bias up front: It would be hard for a print journalist like me not to enjoy a book that makes me and my peers look smarter than both our editors and most television reporters.
“But hopefully there's a broader audience for Neil MacFarquhar's The Sand Café, a satiric fictional account of a journalist's romance and reporting set in a non-descript Saudi Arabian hotel during the first Gulf War.”
“This dark satire of modern war reporting skewers many a real-life self-obsessed war correspondent. It pours scorn, too, on their often cowardly editorial bosses back in Washington, only too willing to compromise in the face of official pressure and to put more energy into urging reporters to avoid sensitive topics than into cultivating their investigative urges.
“MacFarquhar, who went to school in Libya and is fluent in Arabic, writes about a world he knows intimately, having covered the gulf war for the Associated Press. As the Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times, he has since earned a reputation as one of the finest Middle East correspondents of his generation.”
“The Sand Café presents a world no different from what any reporter has ever faced covering a story big enough to draw a horde of competitors who skirmish over scraps of gossip, form temporary liaisons, plot career moves, eat poorly and stretch the truth (but not so much that the blogs might pound them into library paste). It is an interesting and revealing world....
“The hero, Angus Dalziel, is a victim of patronizing editors, manipulative sources and the alluring but remote TV correspondent he loves. ...Like most journalistic labor camps of this sort, the exchange of passion and information runs together....
“MacFarquhar lived in the Middle East as a child, studied it in college and clearly still savors its flavors. He also knows the reporters' turf well.... Elements of suspense pull us through this knowing satire of the profession. Will Angus's war, as brief as it is, go well? Will he succumb to his growing sense that he needs Thea longer than the standard fortnight? Will the U.S. military handlers stop treating the reporters like buck privates? Will the Saudis' orgies and hypocrisies be exposed?”
“Café serves up Gulf War newsers as one spicy dish”
“The newsfolk who inhabit Neil MacFarquhar's novel, The Sand Café, are supposed to be made up. But they sure look familiar....”
“The frustrations and follies of contemporary war reporting are skewered in this jaundiced, juicy dispatch, datelined Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War.... Watching his comrades veer between frenzy and torpor in their media bubble, Angus ponders the rot at the heart of journalism - especially the shallowness and vanity of television correspondents, one of whom uses up his tent mates' precious drinking water to shampoo his hair. First-time novelist and New York Times Cairo bureau chief MacFarquhar has this milieu down cold.... [M]edia insiders and casual readers alike will relish his stock of witty observations and nasty anecdotes, while gleaning timely insights into the corruption of the news business.”
“MacFarquhar directs his poison pen at the ambitions, pretensions, and petty rivalries of those in the news business as only an insider can.”