Elvis is Titanic: Classroom Tales from the Other Iraq
Alfred A. Knopf
In the spring of 2005, Ian Klaus, a twenty-six-year-old Rhodes Scholar, traveled eight hours from Turkey, ria broken-down taxi and armed convoy, to reach Salahaddin University in Arbil, the largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan. Elvis is Titanic is the poignant, funnv, and eve-opening story of the semester he spent there teaching U.S. history and English in the thick of the war for hearts and minds.
Inspired by the volunteerism of so many young Americans after 9/11, Klaus exchanges the abstraction of dutv for an intimate involvement with individual lives, among them Mahir, a rakish Kurdish pop star whose father, an imam, disapproves of music; Ali, an Anglomaniac professor of translation devoted to the BBC, with whom Klaus has a public showdown over Hemingway; and Sarhang, Klaus’s bodyguard, whose interest in American history is excited by Mel Gibson’s performance in The Patriot. Among the Kurds, a perennially oppressed but seemingly indomitable people, Klaus encounters both openhearted welcome and resentful suspicion—and soon learns firsthand how far even a trusted stranger can venture in this society. With assignments ranging from Elvis to Ellington, from the mysteries of baseball to the apergus of Tocqueville, Klaus strives to illuminate the American way for charges initially far more attuned to our pop culture than our national ideals.
These efforts occasion Klaus’s own reexamination of truths we hold to be self-evident, as well as the less exalted cultural assumptions we have presumed to export to the rest of the world. His story, as full of hope and discovery as he finds his students, offers a slice of life behind the headlines.
Ian Klaus, who now lives in New York City and Cambridge, wrote for publications across the United States while he was in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in history at Harvard.