The author of this
stunning novel served as a tank commander with the Iraqi army during the Gulf
War. He has been living in Spain since 1995 but it is his real life experiences
from his time living in Iraq that are the cornerstones of his novel. The story begins
on the third day of Ramadan when nine banana boxes are discovered by a
villager. Each contains the severed head of nine of the men from the village.
Behind the brutal deaths are the stories of a war, a revolution and the secrets
buried with the bodies in the President’s gardens. A haunting read that stays
with you long after you have turned the last page. If it is your pick for book
club it will provoke debate and discussion like no other novel.
for that next great read? In this mini-series, some of Saint Louis University’s
published authors share their recommendations for memorable summer reading
with their fellow staff, faculty and students.
In this edition,
Newslink turns the spotlight on a novel by SLU-Madrid's Muhisin Mutlak Rodhan,
Ph.D., also known as Muhsin Al-Ramli. The President's Gardens was
published to critical acclaim and was a finalist for the 2013 Booker prize for
Arabic novels. Al-Ramli is also the author of Dates on My Fingers, Scattered
Crumbs and The Wolf of Love and Books.
The President's Gardens by Iraqi
writer Muhsin Al-Ramli. A man moves to Baghdad to become a gardener for the
President. The gardens are beautiful, but they are fertilised by the corpses
buried among the exotic trees and delicate waterfalls. Years later, after
the fall of Iraq to the United States, the gardener’s severed head is found
with eight others in banana crates next to the bus stop in his village. This is
where The President’s Gardens, now skilfully translated into English by Luke
Leafgren, begins and ends. Al-Ramli’s novel is a remarkable depiction of
the atrocities the ordinary Iraqi has endured for the past half-century.
Pages 231 to 257 are a particular tour de force; I nearly wept. I am proud to
bring you this as part of the Middle East In Translation package (link in bio)
which has been made possible by the goodwill of my Arabic translator…
Iraqi author Muhsin
Al-Ramli’s brother was executed for planning a coup against Saddam. Yet the
narrative here is driven neither by anger nor partisan hate
July 20, 2017 Published in August 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
It is typical of the Rabelaisian impudence
of this book that the reader does not encounter the title’s subject—the
President’s gardens—until towards the end. This extraordinary portrait of three
friends growing up in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq uses a range of storytelling
traditions, infusing tragedy with comedy, the epic with the intimate, and the
real with the surreal. From its arresting start—“In a land without bananas, the
village awoke to nine banana crates, each containing the severed head of one of
its sons”—the author evokes both despair and joy in lives perpetually branded by
conflict. Part of its power derives from the knowledge that its stories are
firmly rooted in history.
Iraqi author Muhsin
Al-Ramli’s brother was executed for planning a coup against Saddam, and the
book’s opening mirrors the fate that befell nine of his other relatives. Yet
the narrative is driven neither by anger nor partisan hate. Through the story
of the three friends—the long-suffering Ibrahim, Abdullah and Tariq—paints a
portrait of modern Iraq that tips its hat both to the picaresque spark of Cervantes
and the magical realism of García Márquez. (Al-Ramli has translated Don
Arabic.) By the time the book reaches the elaborate gardens where many of
Saddam’s victims are buried, it has taken the reader through tragedy,
imprisonment and war. Yet the overwhelming impression left is of the
indefatigability of the human spirit. A tour de force.
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
“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