What To Read This Month

Lebanese journalist Hala Jaber’s heart-wrenching search for an Iraqi orphan.

Reviewed By Dalia Sofer

In 1972, when Nick Ut’s photograph of a naked girl running from a na-palm at-tack became one of the most iconic images of the Vietnam War, few could contest the power photography has on public opinion.
The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles chronicles Lebanese journalist Hala Jaber’s search for a similarly iconic image. She is asked by her editor at the Sunday Times of London to find an Iraqi orphan, preferably a girl, “slightly older [than a baby] but still young enough to look defenseless . . . Ideally, she would be badly injured but still beautiful: She had to make a great picture.”
The morbid nature of this task is not lost on Jaber, but she reminds her-self that the photograph will serve to raise funds for injured children.
The quest for a poster child leads Jaber to the hospitals of Baghdad, where she meets a severely burned three-year-old named Zahra who, along with her baby sister, Hawra, has lost her parents. Zahra is too injured to be the face of the campaign (Jaber ends up using a photo of a boy), but she takes hold of Jaber’s heart, filling her with emotional turmoil.
Unable to conceive, Jaber had set aside her dreams of motherhood; now her maternal desire is rekindled by Zahra. Jaber becomes the child’s advocate, attempting to orchestrate a dicey trip to Jordan for medical treatment, and begins to indulge in pas-tel visions of what her family might look like—Zahra and Hawra opening presents beneath a Christmas tree in her flat—if she and her husband were able to save the one girl and later adopt the two of them.
The Flying Carpet is a painful reminder of the toll taken by the Iraq war, offering details that rarely made it into headlines: the increased frequency of weddings because “Baghdadis sensed sorrow might not be far away” and women giving birth without drugs because hospitals were saving anesthetic for the many Iraqis wounded in the conflict. Although the story could benefit from more sensory detail, Jaber’s memoir is a compelling read that tracks the trajectory of a woman who finally comes to understand the rewards of maternal love.
Dalia Sofer is the author of the novel The Septembers of Shiraz. She was born in Tehran, Iran, and lives in New York City. 

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