'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

We're moving from Saudi to Turkey

Hagia Sofia

My new neighbor: Istanbul's Hagia Sofia. (Image by qyphon via Flickr)

Dear readers,

I’m sorry about my infrequent posting lately. Below are two reasons why, and by way of continuing apology, a link to my latest piece — a feature in the Brown Alumni Magazine about being alone in a room in Saudi Arabia with a young woman who wants to attend an ivy league university.

1. As I wrote with some emotion last month, my beloved dad Al Deuel passed away April 13 after a brief battle with cancer. We are all still crushed. And among other things, his passing came just days after my wife and I left Riyadh, which we no longer call home.

2. Instead, Kelly McEvers and I are most likely moving to Istanbul, where I will be based as she looks to rotate into Iraq as National Public Radio’s new Baghdad correspondent.

So over the next weeks and months, my focus will begin shifting from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the Gulf, to Turkey, Iraq, and the greater Middle East. If you have any advice, questions, or avenues of research you’d like Kelly or I to pursue, please don’t be shy.

For now, here’s a sample of that BAM piece about interviewing young women in Saudi for undergraduate admission to Brown — and also an appeal for your continued patience. Everything’s different now.

Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: Iraq, Islam, Kelly McEvers, Middle East, NPR, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, World, Writing, , , , , , ,

You are not alone; we are all alone

Northwestern Afghanistan

Northwestern Afghanistan is both real and more real than you can imagine. (Image via Wikipedia)

Another dream. I’m at a crowded airline terminal, and all the other waiting passengers are American high schoolers: Rowdy, urban, multi-cultural, coiled with teen-aged energy.

Under the fluorescent lights, against the soft hush of the industrial carpet, a hefty boy with tanned skin, dark hair, and pimples stands to give a Heil Hilter salute.

He’s rooted there there, tall — is he Mexican, from Latin America? he’s a citizen, though — ramrod and with a blank face, giving this awful salute.

Catcalls ensue. “No he didn’t!” “Oooooh.” “Damn, that boy crazy!”

But he just stands there, rigid, unmoving, this real boy doing something real. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Afghanistan, U.S. Military, War, World, Writing, , , , ,

Building a beautiful arch

Picture showing Armenians killed during the Ar...

Image via Wikipedia

Christopher de Bellaigue, in his new book Rebel Land, describes the “petty and dishonorable” feeling of  interviewing old women in the small town of Varto, where the author is researching a book about painful and sensitive subjects — genocide, Armenians, Turks.

Why not let sleeping dogs lie? Why not leave this poor woman alone, why jog her memories? And then arch of your design starts to fill, and it seems like a beautiful arch, with lessons for us all, and you press greedily on.

Writing in The New York Review of Books several years ago, de Bellaigue wrote  about a period of Turkish history. For his failure to accurately account for the mass killings of Armenians, he was vilified by readers and taken to task by Review editor Robert Silvers.

This new book seems, in part, to be atonement. Words beget words.

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Filed under: Books, Genocide, New York Review of Books, Turkey, World, Writing, , , , , ,

Rare Saudi poll: The kids are alright

A woman carries shopping bags at a mall in the...

Good luck trying to get her to talk. (Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife)

Saudi Arabia isn’t an easy place to gather hard data. Women are shy, men are brusque, and notions of privacy could make approaching a stranger difficult, if not dangerous. In such a traditional and closed society, there simply isn’t any precedent for allowing a stranger to nose around asking questions.

That’s what makes this survey — a poll of 1,000 representative Saudis undertaken by a U.S. firm this November —  so interesting.

The numbers indicate a populous that is generally positive about the future but concerned more immediately by slipping  economics and the problem of corruption. All this is generally good news for a world looking for rationality and reform out of the Islamic Kingdom. But then there’s the percentage of those polled who support Al Qaeda…


Forty percent of respondents reported their situation had deteriorated in the last year, compared to 36 percent who said things had improved.

Religious extremism:

A large percentage of both men and women see religious extremism as a problem, but the difference is telling: 48 percent of men see it as a problem while the number jumps to 59 percent for women.

Youthful optimism:

Fifty-nine percent of Saudis aged 18-24 years old said the country was moving in a positive direction, compared to 51 percent those in the 55-and-over age bracket. With a quarter of the population under 24 years old and an unemployment rate that some say puts one out of three youths without a job, it’s interesting to see such optimism.


Maybe the most important fact is that a supermajority — 63 percent — said that corruption is a serious problem. As evidenced by the outpouring of anger after more than 100 Saudis died during flooding in Jeddah this winter — anger that was voiced on the youth-oriented venues of Facebook and YouTube — there’s some reason to believe that younger Saudis will not only disapprove of corruption, but make noise about it.

Al Qaeda:

But at the same time, the survey revealed that one out of five respondents expressed “some support” for Al Qaeda. While it’s true that most Saudis polled didn’t express support, in a country of nearly 30 million people, that’s still a constituency for the bad guys of several million.


So how did they do the polls? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Al Qaeda, Islam, Journalism, Media, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, World, Writing, , , , , ,

Who was Barry Hannah writing for?

Barry Hananh. (Courtesy of Gardenandgun.com)

Barry Hananh. (Courtesy of Gardenandgun.com)

The conventional wisdom is that Barry Hannah, who died this week at the age of 67, is the kind of writer who had two kinds of readers. One: Those who just haven’t read him yet. Two: As the estimable Wells Tower wrote in a profile before Hannah’s death, those who get a “feverish, ecstatic look before they seize you by the lapels and start reeling off cherished passages of his work.”

Sheepishly, I think I fall into a third category. I admire the taut, spring-loaded fury in Hannah’s hearty, American stories. But even as I learned to agree with the idea that he’s among the most important fiction writers of the last decades, I always brushed up against his mechanics, and sensed in his disciplined prose a kind of wrestling match with the words that didn’t work for me. (I gravitate more toward another tortured, muscular southerner: Padgett Powell, who in my opinion wrote the best book of 2009.)

Consider the Towers profile. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Books, Entertainment, Writing, , , ,

Reading Stephen King in Riyadh

Cover of "Under the Dome: A Novel"

Cover of Under the Dome: A Novel

I hadn’t read Stephen King since I was 12. Needful Things, which came out in 1991, was the last gasp of what you’d probably call a childhood obsession. Over about 16 months, helped by an aunt who ran a used book store in rural Montana, I devoured them all — The Stand, Misery, even his pseudonymous Bachman Books. I was hooked on the horror and drama, of course. But there was an inkling in the breakneck reading that I was being driven by desires more important than mere titillation.

On reflection — and as inspired by this latest reading — I now realize that my King thing was more than a child’s first crush on scary stories; it was a young man’s effort to figure out how to be an adult. Because — more than macabre tales — King’s novels almost always take some big-hearted stand on what is wrong and what is good and how we should live. (Cujo was about the frailty of man in the face of animals; The Stand about the inherent danger of big cities and the technology that comes with them; Pet Semetary cautioned us not to love animals — or each other — too much.) And a King book is invariably a very long book, a fact that made reading any of them feel like that much more of an accomplishment. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Books, Homesick, Writing, , , , , ,

Last night, at the checkpoint

Biometric United States passport issued in 2007

I need one of those, the blogger said, eying my passport. (Image via Wikipedia)

The blogger stood beside his compact green sedan, the police lights washing over his polo shirt, jeans, and sneakers. I coasted over, surprised at how slight he seemed in person. The gears of my Chinese-made bike clicked, and I felt in my breast-pocket for the comforting heft of my U.S. passport.

My wife had explained to me that her Saudi visitor would need someone to meet him at the gate of our walled compound. But we no longer rented a car — I had become terrified of traffic and the idea of blood money — so I would face the checkpoint police born on the unenviable conveyance of two wheels.

The night air was cool, and men with guns swarmed. Stretching beyond the guards was a long line of vehicles, each waiting to gain entry. Next to an armored personnel carrier, two heavy-set soldiers in berets sat smoking in the shadows. I noticed the glowing red bulb of a burning cigarette. It was the gunner manning the .50-caliber cannon. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Journalism, Media, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, World, Writing, , , ,

If you read only one Salinger tribute

White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire...

New Hampshire: It's really not at all like the Lower East Side. (Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr)

At least for this week or so, J.D. Salinger is as brilliantly alive to a world of readers as he has been any day for decades. Among the many moving tributes, one by The New Yorker’s Lillian Ross stands above the rest. A friend of Salinger’s for five decades, Ross writes a tribute with feeling and intimacy. Several moments stand out.

He loved children:

After watching his son, Matthew, playing one day, he said, “If your child likes—loves—you, the very love he bears you tears your heart out about once a day or once every other day.” He said, “I started writing and making up characters in the first place because nothing or not much away from the typewriter was reaching my heart at all.”

Salinger was generous with writers he admired:

When he read a story of mine about kids skipping around a Maypole in Central Park, he wrote to me, “The first and last thing you’ve done is to redeem everything, not just make everything bearable.”

He found simple pleasures:

He told me that one day he went out and bought an iron, and had his housekeeper iron his shirts. “How it cheered me up,” he said.

Interesting how a man — whose work is alreadly immortal — gains, in death, a strange flare-up of deeply human presence among a world of many who may have long taken his body for granted. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Books, Death, Entertainment, Journalism, Media, Writing, , , ,

The books I've read

Best novel of the year: The Interrogative Mood

Best novel of the year:

I forget what I’ve read and that feels like letting friends die. Now that I consume words mostly via Kindle, it’s easier to keep track, but still, there is the odd physical object that crosses my eyeballs.

In 2010, the list will be exhaustive. For 2009, I’m remembering as best as I can.

Books are alphabetical by author and feature capsule reviews for each — as much for reader’s edification as for mine. (Memory aid and all that.)


-Chang, Leslie T. – Factory Girls

-D’Agata, John – About a Mountain

de Bellaigue, Christopher – Rebel Lands

-Hessler, Peter – Country Driving (Hand-delivered wisdom from a rapidly changing modern China.)

-King, Stephen – Under the Dome (Addictively shrill novel goes down in one gulp, gives nightmares.)

-Stegner, Wallace – Discovery

-Taylor, Kate, ed. – Going Hungry (Chilling collection of true and enlightening eating disorder tales.)

-Tower, Wells – Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned – (Short stories so engrosing, they should be novels.)

-Twain, Mark – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (What is America, on the page.)


-el-Aswany, Alaa – The Yacoubian Building (Pitch-perfect novel renders the heartbreaking conundrum of modern Egypt.)

-Auster, Paul – Invisible (Not his best, but memorably gross and engrossing.)

-Bolano, Roberto – 2666 (A masterpiece, among the five best novels I’ve ever read.)

-Bowles, Paul – Sheltering Sky (A bitter and disturbing desert classic. Essential reading.)

-Greene, Graham – The Quiet American (The tragic problem of being a westerner in S.E. Asia. I reread this at least once a year.)

-al-Hamad, Turki – Shumaisi (So-so translation of a cloying novel still packs ethnographic punch.)

-King, Michael – The Penguin History of New Zealand (Painful/hopeful, apologetic/ambitious record of world’s strangest nation.)

-Lawrence, Linda – Bold Spirit (Bad book, interesting subject: 1896 woman walks from Wa to NY.)

-Mantel, Hilary – Eight Months on Gazzah Street (In progress… more when I finish.)

-Matthiessen, Peter – Snow Leopard (A zen artifact read accidentally builds to a forceful climax.)

-Meyer, Philipp – American Rust (A lightning read feels amateurish upon reflection.)

-Munif, Abdulrahman – Cities of Salt, The Trench, Variations on Night and Day (Byzantine trilogy of novels is as spiraling as the story of modern Saudi Arabia it tells.)

-O’Neill, Joseph – Netherland (I’m surprising no one when I call this truly post-9-11 Britisher’s tale among the form’s best.)

-Pamuk, Orhan – Museum of Innocence (A mesmerizing saga of love in Istanbul that grows more wise in hindsight.)

-Powell, Padgett – The Interrogative Mood (A dormant PoMo lion returns with the year’s best novel.)

-Rich, Nathaniel – The Mayor’s Tongue (Well-bred wunderkind narrowly makes good of showy silliness.)

-Roberts, Russell – Down the Jersey Shore (Laughably fawning but studded with juicy facts.)

-Seabrook, W.B. – Adventures in Arabia (Almost too-good-to-be-true found novel in which NYC couple abandons W Village coffeehouse to trek Arabia. 1928.)

-Stewart, Rory – Places in Between (Despite annoying faux-modesty, walking book dazzles with rugged intelligence.)

-Theroux, Paul – Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (Lazyish legend licks well-fed lips, content his notes better than your final draft.)

-Whitehead, Colson – Sag Harbor (A comic word magician at top of game tackles race in the ’80s East Hampton.)

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Filed under: Books, Entertainment, Riyadh, Writing, , ,

Life in Tokyo is annoying and unfair

Night view from Westin Tokyo

This is true: Tokyo. (Image by Joi via Flickr)

This is the opening paragraph of a gorgeously bizarre story in today’s New York Times:

Life in Tokyo, as everywhere else in the world, is annoying and unfair. The good men are all married. Co-workers clip their fingernails at their desks. Laundry comes back from the cleaners still dirty. Society is too competitive. It is impossible to get enough sleep.

via Complaint Choirs Make Whining an Art Form – NYTimes.com.

Any idea what the rest of the story is about? It might not matter.

Reading the news doesn’t always have to be about gleaning facts and information. Sometimes it’s just the pleasing serendipity of paragraphs like this.

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Filed under: Journalism, Media, New York Times, Writing, ,