Iraqi hearts and minds
Middle-Eastern courtesies from Nahi, the busboy, come off a bit skewed in English: “Hello, Mr. Ian. You are my love! You are my house!” Indeed, skewed perceptions of one another’s culture, but also hearty human encounters, are what 26-year-old Rhodes Scholar Ian Klaus found while teaching English and American history for a semester at a university in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2005.
His new book, Elvis is Titanic, presents sharp vignettes of fortunes made and broken by war, Kurdish hopes for independence, students grasping at English as a ticket to the future, Muslim moderates and radicals and ex-pat life at the Grand Hotel. Klaus offers plenty of insight into the psychological heritage of political oppression and corruption, and also into the fatalism of his students. Despite tedious padding on Hemingway and other authors, Klaus’ tales of genuine discussion among his students—about democracy, Islam and Iraq’s political future—are impressive. He leaves abruptly after being dangerously outed by the local newspaper… as Chelsea Clinton’s boyfriend, no less. That he took the risk of teaching there in the ?rst place is remarkable.