Neil MacFarquhar does for war reporting what Ernie Pyle did for war - but with the funny parts - in The Sand Cafe. Dhahran Palace Hotel, Saudi Arabia, 1991. The US forces are massing on the border with Iraq, preparing to throw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Men and material are arriving daily; helicopters and armor are training in the desert sand. There are rumors of Scud missiles, talk of the possibility of chemical attack, but, in fact, nothing is really happening. With no story to report, the press is getting restive. The Sand Cafe is a satire of modern war reporting that mercilessly exposes the life of the foreign correspondent: endless scurrying trips in pursuit of a really big story, gathering frustration, brewing jealousy directed towards other reporters, especially those from better financed TV networks, and the stale smell of damp rot that comes from a combination of leaking air-conditioning and wretched carpeting in the hotel where the entire bedraggled press corps is housed. Boredom massages idle thoughts into wild excesses, even in a country that officially bans the sale of alcohol.
Neil MacFarquhar, a veteran of the Middle East foreign press corps, has written a woundingly witty black comedy of those who bring us news from the front lines, exposing their vanities, rivalries and petty distractions. MacFarquhar's exposure to the Middle East started early, even before he entered first grade in Marsa Brega, Libya and continued through Stanford, where his senior thesis focused on the Arab oil embargo as an economic weapon. Fluent in Arabic and French, he has worked as a correspondent in the Arab world for over 12 years, the last five as the Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times.
Neil MacFarquhar's exposure to the Middle East started early, even before he entered first grade in Marsa Brega, Libya and continued through Stanford University, where his senior thesis focused on the Arab oil embargo as an economic weapon. He has worked as a correspondent in the Arab world for more than twelve years, including the last five as the Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times. Fluent in Arabic and French, his next assignment for the Times will be Paris.