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A Land of Aching Hearts

A Land of Aching Hearts

The Middle East in the Great War

Leila Tarazi Fawaz

ISBN 9780674735491

Publication date: 11/17/2014

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The Great War transformed the Middle East, bringing to an end four hundred years of Ottoman rule in Arab lands while giving rise to the Middle East as we know it today. A century later, the experiences of ordinary men and women during those calamitous years have faded from memory. A Land of Aching Hearts traverses ethnic, class, and national borders to recover the personal stories of the civilians and soldiers who endured this cataclysmic event.

Among those who suffered were the people of Greater Syria—comprising modern Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine—as well as the people of Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt. Beyond the shifting fortunes of the battlefield, the region was devastated by a British and French naval blockade made worse by Ottoman war measures. Famine, disease, inflation, and an influx of refugees were everyday realities. But the local populations were not passive victims. Fawaz chronicles the initiative and resilience of civilian émigrés, entrepreneurs, draft-dodgers, soldiers, villagers, and townsmen determined to survive the war as best they could. The right mix of ingenuity and practicality often meant the difference between life and death.

The war’s aftermath proved bitter for many survivors. Nationalist aspirations were quashed as Britain and France divided the Middle East along artificial borders that still cause resentment. The misery of the Great War, and a profound sense of huge sacrifices made in vain, would color people’s views of politics and the West for the century to come.


  • A detailed account of the political and cultural events that occurred in the Middle East just before and during World War I. It concerns the way in which Arabs were caught up in Europe’s first major war of the twentieth century, and how this proved to be a turning point in Middle Eastern history, but one not of the Arab peoples’ own making…What is startling, though, is how so much of what World War I unleashed—struggles over identity, sectarian or otherwise, national border disputes, rights of minorities, the place of women in society—still reverberates to this day… Fawaz explores the war’s effect on the region’s ordinary people: fishermen, villagers, entrepreneurs, émigrés, soldiers and draft dodgers are woven into a rich tapestry. She takes us aboard ships and into train stations, along the lines outside bakeries and into crowded prison camps. These are the vantage points from which Fawaz observes the scope and scale of the war. In minute detail, she recounts the devastation it wrought, including the way common catastrophes of locusts, famine and disease were exacerbated by the exploits of Europeans, such as the prolonged Anglo-French naval blockade. Fawaz is always at pains to present the ingenuities and the tenacity of ordinary Arab people under these pressures… As Fawaz does, [historians] should draw on local sources, languages and experiences to restore the Middle East’s full complexity rather than reinforcing the blinkered, one-sided narrative of butchers and beheaders.

    —Tom Finn, The Nation


  • Leila Tarazi Fawaz is Issam M. Fares Professor of Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University.

Book Details

  • 416 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press