a 'Nutshell,' a primer worth looking into
The World in a Nutshell: A Series.
Michael J. Bonafield,
"Get your facts straight first,"
advised Mark Twain, but facts can be devilishly
elusive -- and never more so as when they are needed
immediately. That's the beauty of Amanda Roraback's
"Nutshell" series. Most everything one would want to
know about a country -- its history, government,
economy, social composition, religion, languages and
more -- is covered in cleanly written précis
brimming with important and fascinating data. And
it's packaged in a user-friendly paperback.
Roraback, who conceived the idea for the series, had
embarked upon a doctoral program in history at UCLA
when 9/11 changed the world -- and her career path.
"I didn't see myself standing in front of a class
explaining stuff that can be found in books," she
said. "History is dynamic; it's real. I try to make
the connection in my series between what is read in
the daily newspaper and a country's history." So far
she has written about Afghanistan, the
Israeli-Palestinian issue, Islam, Iraq, Pakistan and
Iran. Two more are on the drawing board -- China and
the Koreas. Moreover, "Israel-Palestine in a
Nutshell" (its back-to-back layout is ingenious) has
been revamped in light of recent events. The Star
Tribune's Michael J. Bonafield caught up with her in
Santa Monica, Calif., as she was preparing for a
fact-finding trip to Iran.
Celebrities' ignorance sparked the idea for
• The World in a Nutshell: A Series.
Publishing, 80 to 145 pages, $7.95 to $9.95.
What led you to do the "Nutshell" series?
It was 9/11, actually. I went to a Directors Guild
rally out here in Hollywood and various celebrities
were championing women's rights in Afghanistan, but
it was apparent they didn't even know where
Afghanistan is, much less anything about its culture
and history. It motivated me to do the first book,
A knowledge of Islam would seem to be a key to
understanding not only Afghanistan, or the Taliban,
but the entire Middle East.
I had studied Islam in school, and I've taken trips
to the Mideast: Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel and
Egypt. I stayed with a sheik in Cyprus studying
Islam. He was a Sufi Muslim. I still go to Qur'an
classes often. I found it fascinating how similar
religions are; even the stories in the Bible and the
Qur'an are similar.
We hear often that Islam is a religion of peace. Did
you find that to be true?
Definitely. Islam on paper
is very peaceful; as with Christianity, it's the
interpretation of the word that leads to problems.
For example, most Muslims I've talked to see
terrorists, such as suicide bombers, as separate
from themselves and from Islam. What motivates
people to kill themselves and others for Islam is
not so much a religious question as it is a cultural
and political issue.
How do you go about writing these books?
I assume readers are the same as I was when I first
approached a subject. I thought about the questions
they'd be embarrassed to ask, so I asked -- and
answered -- the questions for them. The purpose of
writing these books is to express facts and events
about a nation's history, not to impress. The time
it takes to research and write varies: Islam took me
a year, but the Israel-Palestine book took two
years. Afghanistan took a year and a half.
By the way, how does one prepare for a trip to Iran
After trying to decode the mixed advice I've been
receiving about my sartorial responsibilities --
"jeans are fine,"no, you must wear dark pants,"open
shoes, no problem,"always cover your toes" -- I
decided to shop for a black manteau, or raincoat, or
coat, depending on who is advising me, that reaches
below my knees. I just stood laughing realizing how
futile my search for a raincoat was in Southern
California in July. ... I prayed that one of my
Persian friends would have pity on me and lend me a
chador [a full-body covering] so that I could simply
toss on a pair of shorts and a tank top and be done
with it -- with closed-toe black shoes, of course.
Bonafield • 612-673-4215