Posted by: Richard Frost | 15 Apr 2020

From Baghdad, With Love by Jay Kopelman book review

Logo for UK news website In The NewsOriginal publication date: April 2007
Outlet: In The News

In a nutshell…
One Marine and his dog.

What’s it all about?
A former US Marine reveals the blood, sweat and tears reality of trying to make a difference in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. Sadly, however, in this real-life true story he decides to look beyond the all-too-obvious humanitarian crisis and focus instead on a “mangy, flea-ridden puppy”.

Essentially a 200-page Sunday supplement feature, the tale revolves around this stray Iraqi puppy, stumbled on by chance and adopted on the spot by the Marines. It then recounts the soldiers’ attempts to evacuate this beloved pooch to the US in a calculated attempt to make middle-aged American housewives from Kansas to Colorado go “awwwwww” in unison.

Who’s it by?
Unsurprisingly, From Baghdad, With Love is Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman’s first book, what with being rather busy fighting toe-to-toe with Iraqi insurgents and all. He was drafted into Iraq in September 2004.

However, the book bears all the hallmarks of being totally ghost-written by co-writer Melinda Roth. A journalist by day, it’s impossible not to detect her pawprints all over the sections cataloguing Iraqi casualties, military misinformation and condemnation of the war effort. At least Ms Roth has pedigree – she previously wrote The Man Who Talks to Dogs.

As an example…
“Once the weather turns colder, he comes inside at night. That’s when he starts bugging me, hanging around looking wide-eyed and cute, all paws and snuffles and innocence. In reality, when he isn’t asleep, he’s anything but innocent.”

From Baghdad, With Love by Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman with Melinda Roth

Likelihood of becoming a Hollywood blockbuster
If, heaven forbid, this dirge ever makes it to the supermarket shelves, don’t bother looking for it in the non-fiction aisle. This book is so sickly sweet, it’ll nestle comfortably between syrup and clotted cream. Such soppy sentimentalism, in fact, that surely even Disney would baulk at showing it on the silver screen.

What the others say
“One of a handful of heart-warming tales to emerge from the war in Iraq” – USA Today

“This touching, often hair-raising story of how a scrappy little puppy captured the heart of a tough-minded Marine will move you to tears” – Zooba

So is it any good?
Any writer who exhaustively dissects a needle in a haystack risks missing out on the bigger picture. Now, readers might be entitled to expect that a former Marine, lifting the lid on his time in Iraq, would have something interesting to say. And very occasionally, Kopelman does.

However, then he remembers he’s writing a soppy piece of fluff for dog-lovers everywhere and reverts to his default stance – puppy-eyed doting. It’s a classic case of not being able to see the wood for all the trees.

Add to this the fact the book is woefully padded out, with blow-by-blow accounts of every dog charity email not fooling anyone. And for £12.99, it goes without saying you could buy half a dozen Sunday supplements of infinitely better quality – with enough left over to gorge on syrup to your heart’s content.

A missed opportunity to show what life’s really like in Iraq, From Baghdad, With Love is most definitely barking up the wrong tree.



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