Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories
Free Press, Hardcover, 9781439166482, 288pp.
Publication Date: October 12, 2010
Travel books bring us to places. War books bring us to tragedy. This book brings us to one woman’s travels in war zones: the locals she met, the compassion they scraped from catastrophe, and the food they ate.
Peace Meals is a true story about conflict and food. It illustrates the most important lesson Anna Badkhen has observed as a journalist: war can kill our friends and decimate our towns, but it cannot destroy our inherent decency, generosity, and kindness—that which makes us human. Badkhen writes:
There is more to war than the macabre—the white-orange muzzle flashes during a midnight ambush . . . the scythes of shrapnel whirling . . . like lawnmower blades spun loose; the tortured and the dead. There are also the myriad brazen, congenial, persistent ways in which life in the most forlorn and violent places on earth shamelessly reasserts itself. Of those, sharing a meal is one of the most elemental.
No other book about war has looked at the search for normalcy in conflict zones through the prism of food. In addition to the events that dominate the news today—the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—Peace Meals also bears witness to crises that are less often discussed: the conflict in Chechnya, the drought cycle in East Africa, the failed post-Soviet states, the Palestinian intifada.
Peace Meals focuses on day-to-day life, describing not just the shocking violence but also the beauty that continues during wartime: the spring flowers that bloom in the crater hollowed by an air-to-surface missile, the lapidary sanctuary of a twelfth-century palace besieged by a modern battle, or a meal a tight-knit family shares in the relative safety of their home as a firefight rages outside. It reveals how one war correspondent’s professional choices are determined not only by her opinion of which story is important but also by the instinctive comparisons she, a young
mother, makes each time she meets children in war zones; by her intrinsic sense of guilt for leaving her family behind as she goes off to her next dangerous assignment; and, quite prosaically—though not surprisingly—by her need to eat.
Wherever Badkhen went, she broke bread with the people she wrote about, and the simple conversations over these meals helped her open the door into the lives of strangers. Sometimes dinner was bread and a fried egg in a farmer’s hut, or a packet of trail mix in the back of an armored humvee. Sometimes it was a lavish, four-course meal at the house of a local warlord, or a plate of rice and boiled meat at a funeral tent. Each of these straightforward acts of humanity tells a story. And these stories, punctuated by recipes from these meals, form Peace Meals. Following Badkhen’s simple instructions, readers will taste what made life in these tormented places worth living.
Anna Badkhen was born in the Soviet Union and moved to the United States in 2004. She began covering conflicts in 2001 and has written about people in extremis from four continents for Foreign Policy, The New Republic, The New York Times, and other publications. Her wartime reporting won the 2007 Joel R. Seldin Award for reporting on civilians in war zones from Psychologists for Social Responsibility. She lives in Philadelphia.
“Anna Badkhen writes about war with a beautiful sensuality, connecting us to those otherwise nameless, faceless fighters and indigenous peoples ensnared in its horrors and hardships. Peace Meals takes us into these people’s kitchens, and into their souls.”
—Norman Ollestad, author of New York Times bestseller Crazy for the Storm
“Anna Badkhen is a hero among women —war correspondent, wife, mother, diplomat, and, with the publication of this book, a sensitive and lyrical human-interest reporter from the outer reaches of the world. Peace Meals takes us not only into the hearts and homes of some of the least-understood (and most interesting) people in war zones, it fearlessly explores the wrenching moral conflicts every war journalist faces. This is a beautiful, vivid, gripping book —with some fabulous recipes.”
—Amy Chua, author of World on Fire and Day of Empire
“Peace Meals is an extraordinary mosaic built of keen observation and uncommon compassion. So much more than mere war reportage, Badkhen attunes her ear to fundamental questions that war time activities: what are the causes of hate and what are the measurable and immeasurable costs of war? What does it mean to resist, to persist, and when is it worth it? Badkhen maintains an unswerving gaze not only at the complex subject matters she investigates but also at her own role as a reporter. Always her conclusions resonant with authenticity and compassion as she renders accounts that neither judge nor praise; neither sensationalize nor diminish. People are more than their stories, Badkhen asserts line by line. Because of this Badkhen can find beauty in the brokenness. She describes a profound generosity evidenced with astonishing regularity. It comes in the most humble and necessary of human acts: eating.”
—Gina Ochsner, author of The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight
"The philosophical connection is interesting...absorbing observations...An intriguing premise." —Kirkus
"Illuminates the strange, dark history of the past couple of decades—the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and drought-stricken East Africa. Most chapters chronicle her connections with particular individuals...each character providing insight into local customs and quirks, but more significantly, illustrates and humanizes regional complexities. Badkhen regularly encounters real danger, but meets it with compassion and graveyard humor...the resulting range of events both large and small is both honest and real." —Publishers Weekly
"Promising...With careful observation, [Badkhen] sees beyond the heartbreaking stories of the families and soldiers, refugees and warlords, she meets. Her eloquent, honest words tell an in-depth history of recent war, and also make known courageous and resourceful people whose actions, or lack thereof, are forced by circumstance." —Christian Science Monitor
"[A] gritty memoir of Afghanistan and Iraq that focuses not on frontline reportage but on behind-the-scenes kindnesses of local families, many of whom shared their hearths, and their bread, with the foreign journalist. In Peace Meals [Badkhen] uses those simple meals as a window, a graceful way to bear witness to the devastation she was covering. But don't think that her book is about food. It's about humanity." —Entertainment Weekly