Neil MacFarquhar's "The Sand Café"

For the past few months news that Neil MacFarquhar, a former Cairo and roving Middle East correspondent for the New York Times, had written a pulpy novel about journalists in Baghdad. Early rumors spoke of a tome called "Shifting Sands," but the publisher has now announced the book, "Sand Café," and gives this synopsis:

Dhahran Palace Hotel, Saudi Arabia, August 1990. As U.S. forces mass on the border with Iraq, preparing to throw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, more than 1,000 foreign correspondents and other media species are jockeying for space in the hotel’s 190 rooms. Helicopters and armor are churning across the desert sand, there are rumors of Scud missiles and talk of chemical attacks, but, in fact, nothing is really happening. With no story to report, the press is getting restive. Not even the stranger aspects of Saudi Arabia keep them distracted for long.

Angus Dalziel, an up-and-coming war reporter for the World Press wire service, finds his attention divided between dull military briefings utterly lacking in news and the figure of Thea Makdisi, a smoldering, spirited cable news reporter. She is sassy while he is buttoned-down; she is exotic while he is studious; she is TV while he is print. Worse, she arouses attention anywhere she goes, stirring up everyone from sex-starved navy fliers to rival television producers. Angus faces the oldest dilemma of any reporter — should he chase the story or the girl?
Yikes! Angus Dalziel? Surely such a ridiculously Scottish name is rather close to home? I'm sure the Baghdad press corps (which does get up to all kinds of naughty things locked up in those hotels) will dissect the book to see who features, thinly disguised, in it.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.