The President’s Gardens
by Muhsin Al-Ramli
I never get a book thinking that I’m going to give it anything less than a four Bite review. As much as I read I get excited about each blurb I read. The blurb on this book was no different, it promised to show me the interior lives and close friendships of a village in Iraq and how huge political acts on the world stage effect even the most unpolitical lives.
“On the third day of Ramadan, the village wakes to find the severed heads of nine of its sons stacked in banana crates by the bus stop. One of them belonged to one of the most wanted men in Iraq, known to his friends as Ibrahim the Fated.
How did this good and humble man earn the enmity of so many? What did he do to deserve such a death?
The answer lies in his lifelong friendship with Abdullah Kafka and Tariq the Befuddled, who each have their own remarkable stories to tell. It lies on the scarred, irradiated battlefields of the Gulf War and in the ashes of a revolution strangled in its cradle. It lies in the steadfast love of his wife and the festering scorn of his daughter. And, above all, it lies behind the locked gates of The President’s Gardens, buried alongside the countless victims of a pitiless reign of terror.”
But sadly this didn’t grip me at all and I ended up not finishing it – in fact I didn’t even get halfway through. I’ve lived in the middle-east, just next door to Iraq in fact so I thought I’d be introduced to rich, complex characters and family dynamics. And to be fair I could see the bones of this but there was no meet on any of it. The story also seemed like it could be interesting but the style of the telling of it let it down.Telling is the right word, the words tell you the story but they don’t invite you into it. It read to me more like a plan of a book or a rough draft.
It is translated from Arabic so it’s possible that some of the fault lies there but I’m hesitant to lay blame in one place, a book may only have the authors name on the cover but it’s usually a group affair so yes, maybe the editor and translator didn’t take good enough care of it but the author is where the buck stops.
If you’ve a short to be read pile and a long train or plane journey it might be worth a punt.