Two ways of looking at the Middle East

Two books landed on my desk this week. If you care about the Middle East, both are well worth your time.

One is "War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq" by Richard Engel, NBC News Middle East correspondent and the longest-serving member of the US press corps in Iraq. Engel has lived in the Middle East for 12 years. He is fluent in Arabic and has traveled widely.

He offers a painful but insightful read. You have to get past the weariness in his tone – or maybe instead getting past it, as you read this book, you come to understand it.

Engel sees up close the heartbreak most of the rest of us experience filtered through the media. And the degree of heartbreak is overwhelming.

Then, for a very different kind of look at the region, you might want to pick up "Palestinian Walks: Forays Into a Vanishing Landscape" by Raja Shehadeh.

The book, now out in paperback, was the 2008 Orwell Prize winner and with good reason. It too is a heartbreaker but of a different kind.

Shehadeh writes with deep love of his home in Ramallah on the Palestinian West Bank. He tells of six walks taken between 1978 and 2006 and the erosion of peace he experiences with the passage of time.

If you are a walker, if you are a reader, if you are a dreamer who longs for world peace, you will find this book deeply moving. But be forewarned: In its quiet way, this book will make the pain of the Middle East conflict very alive to you.

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