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Melia Meichelbock
Diary of a Woman's Misadventures in Iraq
Sgt. Melia Meichelbock is no ordinary soldier. She's one of us — an educated business professional. But in February 2004, she received shocking news that would change her life forever: She was being mobilized for deployment to Iraq. Readers follow Melia's intimate, often humorous, fish-out-of-water journey as one of only two women in her company, as she fights to survive and fit into a world unlike anything she's ever known. Her misadventures lead her through all the phases of fear, anger and, finally, acceptance of her tour into the heart of Iraq as she struggles to find her place in the desert, often among the unwilling, unhelpful, and sometimes all-too-friendly soldiers looking for a deployment fling. No other book delivers such palpable emotion with a true understanding of the raw fear and gut-wrenching heartbreak that Melia endures daily, while struggling to maintain her sense of humor as she makes her way across the dangerous terrain of occupied Iraq.
Meichelbock (author of In the Company of Soldiers) reveals the multifaceted life of a female soldier in a war-torn region. When her Civil Affairs unit gets deployed to Iraq, Meichelbock frankly describes her purpose: “to show the Iraqi people that Americans are good and not the infidels we are often portrayed to be in Middle East culture.” She chronicles her service in unfiltered, engaging snippets—the struggle of being one of the few female soldiers, the loneliness of being away from home, and the new camaraderie that forms amidst the immediate, ever-looming danger. Meichelbock’s story is a testament that life, even when shadowed by violence, somehow maintains its quiet normalcy.

Through an engaging blend of humor, wit, and seriousness, she dismantles stereotypes and prejudices by embracing cultural differences while portraying Iraq through a lens of sympathy and understanding. "I also learned today that the most violent areas are also the most uneducated," she writes—a sentiment that calls forth the nuances of a country grappling with a difficult history and war-raved veneer. When it comes to the interactions within her unit, Meichelbock’s a straight shooter, exploring gender dynamics and other complexities of everyday interaction: “I wish I were fat and ugly here; then maybe I could be taken seriously as a person,” she writes.

Readers will appreciate the photographs scattered throughout, allowing palpable glimpses of Meichelbock's military life and the Iraqi landscape, and, when paired with her diary entries, those photos become graphically immersive. What sets Meichelbock's story apart is her remarkable authenticity in capturing the mundane amid the perilous—from enduring an unsanitary toilet, to seeking human connection, to binge-watching movies in dead hours, to experiencing compassion from the Iraqi people—she explores the lighter side of an emotionally charged experience. This is a compelling perspective of a female soldier fighting for those unable to fight for themselves.

Takeaway: Transformational military journey that deftly captures life amidst looming danger.

Comparable Titles: Robert Semrau’s The Taliban Don’t Wave, Anuradha Bhagwati’s Unbecoming.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-