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Every Man in This Village Is a Liar

Journalist Megan K. Stack peers into the lives of ordinary Middle Easterners caught between despotic rulers, the dream of freedom, and American foreign policy.

By / June 23, 2010

Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War By Megan Stack Knopf 240 pp., $26.95

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Above and beyond the 24-hour news chatter, opaque academic papers, and truncated press reports, stands Megan K. Stack’s glittering Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War. Stack’s beautiful, searing storytelling propels the reader into a head-on collision with the Arab and Afghan experience in the age of the war on terror. By peering deeply into the lives of the Middle Easterners caught between despotic rulers, the dream of freedom, and American foreign policy, Stack illuminates the political and psychological undercurrents of the broader Middle East – and in doing so, asks Americans to look more deeply into themselves and their own country’s actions for a similar examination.

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“Every Man” follows Stack – a reporter for the Los Angeles Times who was plunged into the American invasion of Afghanistan – across the roiling Middle East between Sept. 11, 2001, and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006. In between, she’s an observer of many of the region’s most significant events: the opening of the American invasion of Iraq and its subsequent descent into civil war, the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and the subsequent Cedar Revolution, and Egypt’s farcical elections.

That’s in addition to surviving the advances of a lecherous Afghan warlord, taking a quick trip through the insanity of Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya, having a soulful interaction with a young Iraqi bent on better things, and experiencing a slice of life in Saudi Arabia that offers insights into both the American-Saudi relationship and the callous treatment of women in Saudi society.

The thread that unites Stack’s energetic prose and compelling, circumspect analysis is an ability to embrace complexity, to understand that what is contradictory is not necessarily the enemy of the truth. In Afghanistan, Stack understands both the world’s inability to get at the truth – who really knows what sort of deals are being struck deep in the mountains of western Afghanistan? – and the fact that the apparently conflicting accounts that do emerge may actually represent truth. Afghan warlords, in this case, may be robbing weapons from the United States even while hunting down Osama bin Laden. In Israel, the glorious openness of spirit, intellect, and culture in Tel Aviv coexist with the “filthy” occupation of the Palestinian people. In war,, “you can survive and not survive, both at the same time.”

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