DON'T SHOOT THE CLOWNS by Jo Wilding (New Internationalist), 370 pages, $16.95 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Inspired by the momentary relief given a severely wounded Iraqi child by the poking of a soap bubble, British blogger and activist Jo Wilding decides on an unlikely course of action. She'll bring a circus to the children of Iraq.
Improbable as it seems, she gathers an international crew of jugglers and clowns and spends three months in 2004 stilt-walking in schools, streets and community centres all over Iraq.
In a country with virtually no mental health facilities, she brings the only medicine she can - laughter. If this sounds frivolous, it isn't. As one father says of his shell-shocked son after a performance, "This is the first time I've seen him laugh like that - from the insides - since before the war."
Along the way, Wilding interviews everyone she can. Unembedded, unofficial, she goes where the media silence is loudest (including the battle of Fallujah) and unearths the agonized testimony of bereaved parents, unpaid, under-equipped doctors, ambulance-drivers, wounded children and even former Baathist officials.
Her ability to summon these scenes and nimbly describe their contexts in efficient, lyric prose surely places her beside George Orwell and Michael Herr (Dispatches) as one of the great war chroniclers of our time.
Don't Shoot The Clowns is an extraordinary and necessary document for anyone who wants to get a sense of the true human cost of the Iraq war, but it is more than that - a testament to and inspiration for those who seek to revive and rejuvenate a human spirit battered by shock and awe, attrition and insanity.
Wilding and her cohorts exhibit a quality too seldom in evidence these days: courage.
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