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Gertrude Bell was amazing. In a day when women were expected to be “politely educated,” married, and subservient, Bell was single, Oxford-educated, a mountain climber, and a desert explorer. Here’s my review of Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell.
After teaching herself Arabic, she braved the deserts of pre-World War I Mesopotamia and Arabia with a few servants and her guns. She dined with sheiks and caliphs who normally would not discourse with a woman. She even earned their respect.
During and after the Great War, she was a champion of self-government by Arab people. She worked with her friend, Lawrence of Arabia, to further the Arab voice in the region. Ultimately, their efforts led to a newly formed country of Iraq with an Arab, Faisal I, on the throne.
While her story is amazing, Wallach doesn’t present her as Wonder Woman. Rather, Bell is described as a human with flaws who wants to be a Person, to be someone of consequence. She succeeds in some areas, like politics, more than others, like romance.
I found the book fascinating and truly difficult to put down. Learning from the books I read is important to me. Here I learned a lot about Arab culture and the history of Western interference in the modern Middle East. While I doubt I would have been friends with Bell if I had known her, I found much to admire and astonish. The end of Bell’s life was disappointing and surprising.