The President's gardens,
in The John Maytham Show
I’ve read several thrillers none of them particularly satisfying about Iraq during the war and post war period, and they’re all American foreign policy gung-ho type thrillers, which are not my genre. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Iraq by an Iraqi writer and I took so much pleasure reading a book called The President’s Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli. It’s got that kind of magical feel that something like One Hundred Years of Solitude has, but it’s about Iraq. It starts Ramadan 2006, nine decaptiaed heads are delivered to an Iraqi village and that sets in motion a story that spans generations. You stay in the present and you go back to various genarations in the past. And it’s nearly forty years that the people of Iraq have been suffering war which basically has only had brief pauses to it, and there’s been uprisings, there’s been santions, there’s been a great deal of illness and poverty. This is abook that was published in Arabic in 2012 and has now been translated, and it seems to me extremely well translated, because there’s none of that clunkiness and awkardness that sometimes accompanies translated works. And it is epic, it’s absoutely epic, about the experience of that period of extended conflict and hunger and deprivation and disease from the Iraqi perspective. It’s beautifully written. One of the lines from the book: “If every victim had a book, Iraq in its entirely would become a huge library impossible to catalogue.” But the author puts a lot of these stories and he controls the intersection between them with great adeptness. He is a Madrid-based academic and he bases this book on stories that were told to him by Iraqi citizens. His brother, who was a poet by the name of Hassan Mutlak was executed by SH in 1990. It’s one of those novels that achieves something which is quite rare. It’s absolutely specifc in its context – Iraq, the Iraq conflict, the causes and consquences of it, but it’s themes are universal: love, death injustice, the importance of dignity; how do you find friendship and meaning amid opression. It’s a wonderful book.