“I want to be a great journalist but the one ambition that supersedes that is to have a huge kitchen full of small blond boys and girls running between my legs, shouting and screaming and laughing as I bake them cakes with flour all over my head and an apron round my waist.” (p. 90)
Hala Jaber is celebrated within journalistic circles as a tough, committed reporter whose unusual upbringing allows her to present both Western and Arab perspectives on a topic. What fewer people know is that she and her British photographer husband, Steve Bent, struggled fruitlessly for a decade to conceive a child. Unable to conceive, they threw themselves into their work, journeying to Baghdad to cover the emerging war. There they met two girls who would make a permanent mark on their hearts and lives.
Three-year-old Zahra and Hawra, her infant sister, were the unlikely survivors of a Baghdad missile strike that killed their parents and five older siblings. Their father was a cab driver, not a soldier, but his death—like those of his wife and children—was considered to be an incident of “collateral damage” in a war that would kill and mutilate hundreds of thousands of civilians and decimate untold numbers of families.
Covering the war for London’s Sunday Times, Jaber found herself drawn to stories that would drive home the impact of it all on innocent civilians—particularly mothers and their children. After viewing a morgue piled with tiny corpses, Jaber writes that she “longed to do more than merely report the frenzy of these families in a Western newspaper that supported the war…I wanted to save the children” (p. 57-58).
With stunning honesty and remarkable prose, this award-winning journalist shares her own intimate story about the human costs of war. The story of a westernized Muslim Arab covering the destruction of Iraq and a childless woman aching to love and raise a child, The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles is a riveting portrait of this war and its aftermath, and a timeless story of loss and redemption.
Hala Jaber was born in West Africa and raised in Lebanon. Her first book, Hezbollah: Born with a Vengeance, was published in 1997. She now lives in South London and writes for The Sunday Times.
- Every parent knows the excruciating feeling of helplessness that arises when a child is sick or injured. If you were an Iraqi parent, would you have been able to trust your child to a British subject like Jaber or an American like Marla given their nations’ roles in the war?
- Should the orphans and civilian victims of the war with Iraq receive compensation for their losses? If so, what should it be and how could it be distributed? Who should provide it?
- “After receiving another award for my reports from Iraq, I gave a little speech in front of some of the best writers and broadcasters in the country but could not muster much joie de vivre…I asked: ‘Is it right to benefit like this from other people’s misery?’” (p. 167). What do you imagine are the biggest challenges and rewards of being a war correspondent?
- Have you or anyone you know struggled with infertility? If so, how did this inform your reading of Jaber’s memoir?
- If you were Hawra’s grandmother, would you have chosen to keep her near you, or would you have tried to persuade Jaber to adopt her?
- Do you agree with Jaber’s assessment that Hawra, at six, is too old to uproot from her home in Baghdad to live in another culture? Or is it Jaber who had become too set in her ways to become a full-time mother?
- Overall, do you believe that international adoption is a good or bad institution? Why?
- Should Steve have been more vocal about his own desires regarding fatherhood?
- At one point during her struggle to conceive, Jaber’s sister, Rana, offers to carry their child. “It will still be your baby, from your IVF, but instead of being planted in you, I’ll carry him for you,” (p. 32) she pleads, but her offer is turned down. Do you agree with Jaber’s decision? Does being Muslim complicate their dilemma in other ways?
- The issue of class is touched on very briefly as a potential roadblock to Jaber’s adoption of Hawra. Do you think it may have played a larger factor than Jaber explicates?
- What do you imagine might have happened to Jaber and Bent’s marriage if 9/11 hadn’t galvanized Jaber to renew her career?
- Jaber and her husband, Steve Bent, have worked together as a journalist/ photographer team under some of the most intense, terrifying circumstances imaginable. What are the advantages and disadvantages that they, as a married couple, have over ordinary coworkers?
- Did Ali benefit from his time in England or did it ultimately render him unsuited for life in Baghdad?
- How, if at all, did this book change your perspective on the war in Iraq, or war in general?
- If you could ask Jaber one question about the incidents covered in this book, what would it be?