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Baghdad Central Paperback – February 18, 2014


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press (February 18, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908524251
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908524256
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #649,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

'A murder mystery set in post-Saddam Baghdad is as good as it is daring.' Independent

'It is rare to find a first book of such high quality, and which gives such a penetrating and realistic insight into the impact of a forceful external shock to an ancient and singular culture.’ Crime Review

'Colla writes with power and authority. Politically astute, beautifully constructed and a rattling good read.' New Internationalist

‘A very brave book.' San Francisco Book Review

‘Powerful and authentic, Baghdad Central is a perilous journey through the dark maelstrom of wartime Iraq that will make you want to reach for a flak jacket and glance over your shoulder for surveillance, even as you’re marvelling at its abiding humanity.’ Dan Fesperman, author of Lie in the Dark

"An intriguing first novel…Colla writes of a beleaguered secular Arab culture with deep empathy." Publishers Weekly

'Aside from the beauty of the writing, the strength of Colla’s work lies in its ambiguity. Colla paints a nuanced landscape of a country at war, where each character is driven by a complex tangle of personal and nationalistic aims.' Daily Star

‘Just when you think that nothing in the overcrowded crime field can surprise you any more, along comes a writer like Elliott Colla who takes the genre by the throat and shakes it vigorously. Baghdad Central is a rich and allusive piece of writing, informed by the writer’s experience in both the Middle East and Washington. Its authenticity is matched by a masterly command of the mechanics of suspense.’ Barry Forshaw, Crime Time

‘One rarely finds Iraqis in American fiction except as Orientalist stereotypes or objects of political desires and fantasies. Baghdad Central is unique in this respect. Its Iraqis are subjects with agency and humanity. Colla knows the cultural and political topography very well. The chaos and cacophony of the American occupation are captured vividly. The narrative is smart and smooth. This is an intense and well-written novel. A pleasure to read.’ Sinan Antoon, author of The Baghdad Blues and The Corpse Washer

‘A gripping tale of mystery and intrigue in the claustrophobic, morally treacherous world of post-invasion Baghdad, an environment where relationships can detonate as readily as car bombs. This is a compelling noir crime novel told from inside Iraqi society that lays bare the easy slide from personal to political treachery, where every crime is also a national wound. A great read! ‘ Jenny White, author of The Winter Thief, A Kamil Pasha novel

"For all those with an interest in what life was like in Baghdad under the CPA, this should be required reading...credible and authoritative, [making] Baghdad Central a book I recommend." Opinionator

About the Author

Elliott Colla divides his time between Washington DC and the Middle East. This is his first novel. He teaches Arabic literature at Georgetown University. He has translated much contemporary Arabic literature, including: Ibrahim Aslan's novel, The Heron, Idris Ali's Poor, Ibrahim al-Koni's Gold Dust, and Rabai al-Madhoun's The Lady from Tel Aviv, winner of English PEN award.He is also co-editor of the e-zine, Jadaliyya.

More About the Author

Elliott Colla works in Washington DC. He is a scholar of modern Egyptian literature and has translated works of fiction from Libya, Egypt and Palestine. Baghdad Central is his first work of fiction.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jeffery R Ryan on February 15, 2014
Format: Paperback
If you are a fan of Noir novels or have enjoyed books like "Imperial Life in The Emerald City" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, then you will love this book. Set in the turbulent time right after the fall of Saddam, this book really has all the best elements of noir: down-in-out detective, never knowing who is on whose side, even a mysterious dame or two, all set in a country blowing up all around. A smart read, but also a real page-turner. If Philip Marlowe had been born in Iraq, he would have been named Muhsin Khafaji.
Definitely recommended.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Leslie c Daniel on February 18, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very well written mystery of what could easily have taken place when the US troops invaded Baghdad. The magic of arabic poetry is sprinkled throughout the book. It will hold your attention and can be devoured in one sitting. It is hard to put down once one starts. Highly recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By deejay teo on February 7, 2014
Format: Paperback
A real page-turner featuring a brilliantly drawn protagonist, Inspector Muhsin al-Khafaji, a deserter from the Iraqi police who the US forces wrongly identify as a high-ranking official under Saddam. He is tortured at Abu Ghrayb and then cuts a deal with the American occupiers to train new recruits. In return, he will get medical relief for his daughter, suffering from kidney failure, and unable to obtain proper treatment due to UN sanctions imposed on Saddam's Iraq.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Laurel S. Gord on February 17, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Elliot Colla, a scholar of Arabic literature, really knows his subject. His love and concern for the people, culture, and literature of the region shine through as he takes us on a tour of the devastation caused by the American invasion as seen through the eyes of his remarkable, and remarkably drawn protagonist. I love mysteries that take me into a world that's new to me, and this is a wonder of it's kind. It makes the horrors of the Iraq war, as experienced by the Iraqi people, viscerally real in a way that no amount of reporting could ever do. At the same time, the mystery kept reading, and I enjoyed the company of our poetry spouting protagonist. It behooves all Americans to better understand the Iraqi people and their experience of what America wrought, and this book, I believe, is a major contribution in that area.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By stephen w. quickel on March 24, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Baghdad Central is the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, where fictional former Iraqi police inspector Muhsin al-Khafaji is held captive and flagrantly abused by the American Army in April 2003 soon after George W. Bush ordered US forces to quash Saddam Hussein and his fictitious Weapons of Mass Destruction. What makes this superbly crafted first novel stand out is that the author, though an American, goes beyond the geopolitical and military events to reveal what that awful first year of the second Iraq War must have like for ordinary mud- and blood-splattered Iraqis to whom the US and its Coalition Provisional Authority partners were supposedly bringing the blessings of democracy. They are the real victims of this misbegotten chapter in US history and Elliott Colla, a professor of Arabic literature at Georgetown University, knows their culture and street-level lifestyle well. His writing is taut, a la Hemingway. His descriptions of sights and smells are palpable. His multi-faceted plot unfolds skillfully. One quickly concludes that Colla, widely traveled between Washington and the Middle East, is telling it like is really is. A noir page-turner laced with lovely Arabic poetry in which a beleaguered, chain-smoking Inspector Khafaji strives to survive by any means available, fair or foul, in order to obtain desperately needed medical help for his stricken, poetry-hungry daughter Mrouj.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nathan Webster TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 2, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I don't mean the "other" side as the enemy in Iraq - but simply the majority of Iraqis caught up in the post-invasion chaos, trying to navigate the storm any way they could. It is a perspective rarely explored in recent fiction, which usually puts Iraqis (or Afghans) as pure victims or completely secondary characters.

Stripping away the setting and characters, this is a classic noir mystery in pretty much every way. And the first rule of noir is the main character will discover something he then wished he didn't know. By making his lead character a former inspector in the Iraqi police, now sort of working for the Coalition, author Elliott Colla does a good job of building a realistic plot where the questions and events make sense.

While it works as a straight-up mystery on one level, the book also gives a brutal and grim vision of life in the post-invasion struggle. While we in the US might have thought Iraq was sort of on the upswing in late 2003, we now know that was never the case. Through a series of entirely plausible - and no doubt based on real events - occurences, Colla's main character Inspector Mushin ends up beaten and tortured in Abu Ghraib prison, before being plucked out to "help" the CPA uncover a mystery of missing and murdered Iraqi translators.

The Americans are often portrayed not as dupes, but as true believers who think through sheer force of will they can make things happen they want. So both soldiers and civilians are presented as confident hard-chargers whose utter naivete is perfectly clear in hindsight.

Other Iraqi characters come in and out of the narrative with their own purposes, for good and bad. I couldn't help but put real people in their place, especially as the country continues to fall apart.
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