Jan, 2022 - The Black Wave - Kim Ghattas

Title - The Black Wave

Author - Kim Ghattas

Book Group 2 - Meeting - January 22, 2022


Black Wave is a history of Middle Eastern conflict and why the Middle East is in a state of turmoil today. Award-winning journalist and author Kim Ghattas argues that the turning point in the modern history of the Middle East can be located in three major events in 1979: The Iranian revolution; the siege of the Holy Mosque in Mecca; and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. 

Before this year, Saudi Arabia and Iran had been working allies and twin pillars of US strategy in the region - but the radical legacy of these events made them mortal enemies, unleashing a process that transformed culture, society, religion, and geopolitics across the region for decades to come.

Kim Ghattas unpacks layers of history and politics to understand the transformation of the region as a whole. With great storytelling, extensive historical research and on-the-ground reporting, Ghattas explores how Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, once allies and twin pillars of US strategy in the region, became mortal enemies after 1979. She shows how the competition that went well beyond geopolitics and how this rivalry for religious and cultural supremacy has fed intolerance, encouraged violence, the creation of groups like Hezbollah and ISIS and, ultimately, destroyed the lives of millions. 

lack Wave deals not only with rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, but also Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Egypt. The Israel-Palestine conflict plays only a supporting role. US foreign policy, often crucial to the region’s geopolitics, also gets only a passing mention. The geopolitical rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two countries take the centre stage. It’s like Iran and Saudi Arabia are battling for control in a never-ending game of chess. Black Wave is written like a thriller but with countries as characters in the story. 

What makes the book special is that Ghattas narrates the story through the stories of a cast of characters whose lives were changed completely by the geopolitical drama over four decades. These are not fictional characters but real people; from the Pakistani television anchor who defied her country’s dictator, to the Egyptian novelist thrown in jail for his writings all the way to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Black Wave is both an intimate account of real-life experiences and history of the region narrated through the lives of people.

Ghattas has a free-flowing style of writing and the book does an excellent job in demystifying the complex history and geopolitics of the region. Meticulously researched and extremely readable, the book attempts to make sense of the region’s many troubles. The story keeps shifting from country to country without getting confusing. The western media has often

reduced matters of extraordinary depth and complexity to a snapshot but this book attempts to decipher the complex events from several viewpoints. If you are interested in history and world events, this book is a must-read. 

Our Book Group rated the book a solid 9/10.

Aseema Singhal