Mirror to Iraq

“Americans have a reputation for doing great things in the Kurdish region in Iraq. We also have a history of disappearing at rather crucial moments,” writes author and scholar Ian Klaus in his new book, Elvis is Titanic.

“Americans have a reputation for doing great things in the Kurdish region in Iraq. We also have a history of disappearing at rather crucial moments,” writes author and scholar Ian Klaus in his new book, Elvis is Titanic.

The book’s title, like the quote, does something to the mind when you read it, something that makes you want to take a second look.

From the cover, you might expect a fast-paced, critical and current memoir of the Middle Eastern experience–one that is informative and personalized. Instead, Elvis is Titanic< /i> seems dry and overly academic. But letting go of preconceived notions changes your perceptions.

Klaus’ work is very interesting in its arguments and important points. In many ways it reads like an essay, the kind most students are familiar with writing.

His underlying thesis, concerning the issues he faces in the classroom and through navigating life in the region, comes through and is supported by the historical examples he draws on. It’s evident that he is passionate about both the history and the validity of his purpose.

The history comes through, sometimes a bit dryly, on nearly every page. He skillfully weaves facts on the region, from ancient to recent history, with his commentary and recounting of personal experiences. It is evident that Klaus is well educated, even if you aren’t aware that he is a Rhodes scholar studying at Harvard.

Throughout the text, Klaus seems to be acutely aware of the criticism surrounding the importance of teaching both American history and English, in a region so affected by America. The idea you get from his historical and academic evidence is that he finds reason in his presence in the region. And that reason follows him to the classroom and to his teaching.

To that end, Klaus does a fantastic job of both expressing justification for his lesson plans, as well as his dilemma concerning his innate nationalism and the need to be a nonpartisan educator. He makes an important point, one that our current administration seems to be ignoring, about the recognition of past mistakes and imperfections in American Democracy. He brings up to his readers and students that the mistakes, and the history of trying to redeem those errors, are as crucial to the idea of American Democracy as is liberty.

Reading the book as an American citizen is almost like a refresher course in our history, which completely excuses the dry bits and the more densely academic sections. Klaus, though more clear-eyed than some, is not a jaded expatriate. His obvious faith in the ideals of America, which readers may or may not agree with, comes through in lines like: “America’s strength has always been the compulsive return to founding principles in making sense of our course.”

His arguments in support of such statements make sense. He is not toting the “America is great” banner, nor is he propagandizing. He has somehow avoided those pitfalls and created something, admitting any personal bias he has, that is balanced. And as an added benefit, the dryness fades as you get further into the more personal accounting of the text.

Everything isn’t coming up roses though. As part of the balance he creates, Klaus brings up important issues that most Americans have forgotten about, are unaware of, or simply don’t care about.

For example, Kurdish autonomy logically comes up again and again throughout the text. The continued violence of insurgents in the region–as well as their targets–smuggling, and lack of stability also commonly arise as issues in the book.

One of the most poignant and metaphorical examples from the text comes early on when Klaus writes about the illegal siphoning of gas in Iraq for sale in Turkey: “Standing in puddles of gasoline, with cigarettes hanging from the corners of their mouths, the attendants lined up each waiting car, propped up one tire, and siphoned the tank until the empty light flashed on the dashboard.” It’s as if there is the constant possibility of explosion underlying the entire geopolitical region.

If you can get through the historical essay that is the beginning of Elvis is Titanic, you are in for a treat. It just might give you a better opinion and more educated outlook of America, and a sense of what needs to be done in the near future. Hopefully, it will also remind or inform you of the issues that are vital concerning the people and the governing of that region–a region in which our government will be entangled for years to come.

Keep in mind that while you may not agree with Klaus’ opinions or where he is coming from, his facts and descriptions are indispensable. I recommend this as both entertainment and education in one source. Elvis is Titanic is worth the time it takes to read it.