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Every Man in This Village Is a Liar Reader’s Guide

By Megan K. Stack

Every Man in This Village Is a Liar by Megan K. Stack


The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Megan Stack’s Every Man in This Village Is a Liar, a searing account of war in the Middle East.


Seen through the keenly perceptive eyes of Megan Stack, Every Man in This Village Is a Liar offers readers a harrowing, visceral, unflinching look at what war does to people—those who fight it, those who cover it, and those who are unwittingly caught up in it.
A foreign correspondent in Paris for the Los Angeles Times, Stack is sent to Afghanistan after 9/11 and thrust into the maelstrom of violent conflict in the Middle East. Her account of her experiences—in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere—form “an education in war,” both for Stack and for her readers. That education involves suffering through Israeli bombardment, being punched by Egyptian security agents, and witnessing death, grief, and despair up close. Indeed, it is Stack’s willingness to put herself in harm’s way, and to keep her eyes open and her mind clear of the self-serving obscurations of political leaders, American and Middle Eastern alike, that makes her reporting so invaluable. She captures for readers the raw terror of war, the helpless confusion of civilians who have lived with violence for decades, and the cycles of betrayal and revenge that perpetuate these conflicts.
Initially excited about the prospect of covering the Iraq war, Stack becomes quickly disillusioned, “clobbered by the first wave of a feeling . . . that it was all a mistake, that none of us should be there, the soldiers or aid workers or me. It was all a misunderstanding, and now we were lost abroad and the Iraqis were lost at home, and from this chaos absolutely anything could be born” (p. 56).        
Against the simplistic, self-congratulatory narratives of American politicians and Pentagon spokesmen, Stack shows readers the messy realities of life in the Middle East. She covers some of the most compelling stories of the time: the American invasion of Iraq and Iraq’s descent into civil war; the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri; Egypt’s fraudulent elections; the murder of Iraqi journalist Atwar Bahjat; and the Israeli bombing of Lebanon in 2006, in which she is nearly killed. She also tells the powerful stories of ordinary people in the Middle East, and through them shows us how it feels to live amid chaos, violence, corruption and, for women, horrific repression.
Most important, Stack tells the truth about a region—and the complicated, disastrous American involvement there—that is too often shrouded in lies.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Every Man in This Village Is a Liar is, in many ways, a book about telling the truth. What truths does Megan Stack discover and reveal throughout the course of the book? Why is it so important to tell the truth amid the lies of war?

2. Stack writes an article about Palestinian suicide bombers that engenders death threats from Israeli readers. When she asks why, a reporter friend tells her: “You humanized them. You’re writing about suicide bombers as people who have corpses and families. They can’t stand to see them written about like that” (p. 44). Why is it necessary to dehumanize one’s enemies during war? In what ways is Stack’s book an effort to humanize everyone she writes about?

3. Who are some of the most memorable people Stack meets during her reporting on the Middle East? Why is it so important to tell the stories of individual human beings caught up in the suffering, pain, and grief of war?

4. Writing about the Old Testament story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice to his son Isaac in order to do God’s will, Stack observes “the trouble is that, centuries later, the Middle East is still packed with murderers who believe they are doing God’s will, privately attuned to the ring of God’s voice. This is still how Middle Eastern battles are fought, by Arabs, Israelis, and now by Americans. Blind faith is the footbridge that takes us from virtuous religion to self-righteous violence” (p. 103). Why does religious fundamentalism so often lead to violence? Has America been guilty of the same kind of self-righteous extremism it opposes in the Middle East?

5. After the killing of the courageous Iraqi journalist Atwar Bahjat, who “wanted to calm things down not stoke the anger” Stack writes: “There was no place in Iraq for a woman like that” (p. 197). Why is there no place in Iraq for someone like Atwar Bahjat?

6. What does Stack reveal about how women are treated throughout the Middle East? Why is it important to have a woman journalist’s view of the conflicts in the region? What contrasts are provided by the American women Stack interviews in Saudi Arabia?

7. “Here is the truth,” Stack writes. “It matters, what you do at war. It matters more than you ever want to know”  (p. 51). Why does it matter so much what one does in war? What are the consequences not just for individuals but for nations in how they conduct themselves during war?

8. Every Man in This Village Is a Liar is subtitled An Education in War. In what ways is Stack educated by war? In what ways does she educate her readers about the realities of war?

9. How does Every Man in This Village Is a Liar challenge conventional views of the Middle East?

10. Near the end of the book, Stack writes about the strange feeling of being present and absent at the same time. It occurs to her that this might be “the most American trait of all, the trademark of these wars. To be there and be gone all at once, to tell ourselves it just happened, we did what we did but we had no control over the consequences” (p. 240). In what ways is this an essentially American trait? What dangers are inherent in this way of being simultaneously engaged and disengaged?

11. Stack ends the book by reminding readers what war has taught her: “You can survive and not survive, both at the same time” (p. 245). What is the meaning of this paradoxical statement?

12. In the epilogue, Stack writes that she has “given up on pulling poetry out of war” (p. 246). In what ways has Stack found a gritty, heartbreaking poetry the war-torn Middle East? What passages in the book rise to the level of poetry? Why would she give up this way of writing about war?

13. What are some of the most harrowing moments in the book? What effect do they have on Stack and on her readers?

14. Stack concludes that the “war on terror never really existed,” that it was “essentially nothing but a unifying myth for a complicated scramble of mixed impulses and social theories and night terrors and cruelty and business interests, all overhung with the unassailable memory of falling skyscrapers” (p. 3). Is she right about this? In what sense is the war on terror unreal? 

15. Every Man in This Village Is a Liar plunges readers into the visceral particulars of the war in Iraq and other ongoing conflicts in the region, giving a vivid sense of the texture of war. But what larger points does the book make about war, America’s involvement in the Middle East, the treatment of women in Islamic countries, and other issues?

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About this Author

MEGAN K. STACK has reported on war, terrorism, and political Islam from twenty-two countries since 2001. She was awarded the 2007 Overseas Press Club’s Hal Boyle Award for best newspaper reporting from abroad and was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in international reporting. She is currently the Los Angeles Times Moscow bureau chief.

Suggested Reading

Chris Hedges, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning; Yasmina Khadra, The Sirens of Baghdad; Rashid Khalidi, Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East; Jon Krakauer, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman; Anthony Shadid, Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War; Rory Stewart, The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq.
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