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The Sirens of Baghdad [Paperback]

Yasmina Khadra , John Cullen
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 6, 2008
The third novel in Yasmina Khadra's bestselling trilogy about Islamic fundamentalism has the most compelling backdrop of any of his novels: Iraq in the wake of the American invasion. A young Iraqi student, unable to attend college because of the war, sees American soldiers leave a trail of humiliation and grief in his small village. Bent on revenge, he flees to the chaotic streets of Baghdad where insurgents soon realize they can make use of his anger. Eventually he is groomed for a secret terrorist mission meant to dwarf the attacks of September 11th, only to find himself struggling with moral qualms. The Sirens of Baghdad is a powerful look at the effects of violence on ordinary people, showing what can turn a decent human being into a weapon, and how the good in human nature can resist.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Khadra's latest political thriller set in the Middle East couldn't be more timely. The versatile Khadra brings the reader inside the mind of an unnamed terrorist-to-be, an Iraqi Bedouin, radicalized by witnessing the death of innocents and the humiliation of the civilian population by the American forces in the Second Gulf War. Without apologizing for the carnage caused by either side in the conflict, the author, a former officer in the Algerian army, manages to make the thoughts of a suicide bomber accessible to a Western readership, even as the scope of the terrorist's intended target, meant to dwarf 9/11 in its impact, and the method's plausibility will send a shiver down the spine of most readers. Despite the essential bleakness of the book's themes, Khadra (The Swallows of Kabul; The Attack) manages to inject a note of hope toward the end, without betraying his powerful message of how the occupation of Iraq has brutalized both the Iraqis and the Americans. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

This is Khadra's second novel about a phenomenon that mystifies so many Westerners--the educated, intelligent Arab terrorist. It speaks more directly to the point than did The Attack (2006), for its protagonist is young and motivated by ethnic traditions, not middle-aged and encumbered by Western universalist presumptions. The young man, who remains nameless as he tells his story, hails from a tiny, "backward" Iraqi village, to which he returned after U.S. bombing closed the university in Baghdad. When he is involved in an incident in which a mentally impaired man is shot to pieces by GIs, he withdraws into himself in shock, but when a missile destroys a wedding party shortly thereafter, his shell cracks, and when GIs break into his family's home and humiliate his father in a gross violation of Bedouin mores, he resolves to strike back. Wandering to and through a devastated Baghdad, he eventually accepts the task of being the self-sacrificial bearer of a weapon whose impact, its developers hope, will dwarf that of 9/11. Although the novel veers clumsily from psychological realism while set in the village to noirish ambience and thriller mannerisms in Baghdad to anguished political debate at its conclusion in Beirut, it dramatically embodies the points about cultural clash that Meic Pearse argues in Why the Rest Hate the West (2004). That is, it shows why crystal-clearly. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (May 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307386163
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307386168
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #334,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Yasmina Khadra is the pseudonym of the Algerian writer Mohammed Moulessehoul, born in 1956. A high ranking officer in the Algerian army, he went into exile in France in 2000, where he now lives in seclusion. In his several writings on the civil war in Algeria, Khadra exposes the current regime and the fundamentalist opposition as the joint guilty parties in the Algerian Tragedy. Before his admission of identity in 2001, a leading critic in France wrote, 'A he or a she? It doesn't matter. What matters is that Yasmina Khadra is today one of Algeria's most important writers.'

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Yasmin Khadra (a female pseudonym for Mohammed Moulessehoul) in his novel THE SIRENS OF BAGHDAD takes the reader inside the head of a young unnamed first-person narrator who has been recruited for a secret mission, the nature of which he himself does not know when the story begins when he has just arrived in Beirut to carry out the mission: "All I know is, what's been planned will be the greatest operation ever carried out on enemy territory, a thousand times more awesome than the attacks of September 11. . . ." The rest of this chilling novel covers the events in this young man's life that get him to this appointment with destiny.

The narrator was a humanities student who had to leave the University of Baghdad when the American forces invaded Iraq and return to his home in the remote village of Kafr Karam. Gentle and nonviolent by nature, he lives a relatively quiet life with his sisters and aging parents. "I had nothing to complain about in my parents' house. I could be satisfied with little. I lived on the roof, in a remodeled laundry room." Although he had no television, he listened to a "tinny radio." Then three events occur that make the narrator willing to do anything to get vengence against the American soldiers whom one character describes as shooting first and verifying later. He witnesses the killing of a retarded youth about his age by American soldiers at a checkpoint when he starts running away. The Americans mistakenly believe he might be carrying explosives. Then an American plane drops a missle on a wedding party. Finally soldiers break into the home of the narrator's family looking for terrorists and commit an atrocity that "a Westerner can't undertand," as the family is disgraced.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing story July 15, 2007
This book was a very well written book. The story is a great one because throughout this war the media rarely talks about what the Iragis are feeling or why they fight. All though this book gives just one primary viewpoint (i.e. Iragi against U.S.) it still allows you to understand why Iragis are fighting period whether it be against each other or the U.S. through smaller passages. It is a great read, I didn't want to put it down. It is intoxicating with its descriptions of Iragi life. Everyone should read this if they want to feel as if they understand in total this war. It will not be for everyone and the book itself does not pick sides but merely explains how Iraqis feel.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
The concluding sentence of Yasmina Khadra's latest book, THE SIRENS OF BAGHDAD, magnificently encapsulates the present-day Middle East and the worldviews of too many Westerners and Middle Easterners alike. Speaking from a hillside overlooking Beirut, the unnamed first-person narrator states, "I concentrate on the lights of the city, which I was never able to perceive through the anger of men."

THE SIRENS OF BAGHDAD is essentially two books. For its first 240 pages, it is a study in the formation of a non-religious terrorist. The unnamed protagonist begins as a university student in Baghdad, a Bedouin from a remote Iraqi village named Kafr Karam. For this young man, college represents more than an opportunity for advanced education; it is family pride rstored, a pathway to a successful career, and a means to secure his family's future. The U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003 forces the student to return home to Kafr Karam, and the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime mirrors the decline in the protagonist's fortunes.

When the neighbor blacksmith's young, mentally handicapped son loses two fingers to a metal gate, the narrator accompanies him for an emergency trip to the hospital, only to see the boy gunned down on the way there by American soldiers at a checkpoint. Not long after, an American drone missile explodes in the middle of a village wedding party, killing seventeen women and children. The final insult occurs when American soldiers invade the narrator's own home in the middle of the night in search of weapons. During their incursion, they treat the narrator's father so poorly that he involuntarily exposes himself to his son, described as the ultimate indignity for an Arab man and his family. "For Bedouin," the narrator tells us, "...honor is no joking matter.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, Frightening and Enlightening December 2, 2007
I read this book in French, having bought it in Europe, where it is prominently displayed in bookshops. I found it to be a frighteningly realistic portrayal of the life of ordinary Iraqis since the beginning of U.S. military involvement in Iraq. It really helps illuminate how anti-American feeling has been generated, through the description of the transformation of an ordinary man into a terrorist.

What struck me most of all about the book was the multiplicity of voices. These include the fanatical, militant terrorists who wish to assert Middle Eastern supremacy while destroying the West; the Bedouin woman who has left her village to become a doctor in Baghdad, and supports most of her relatives financially; her brother, who rejects her when he discovers she is living, unmarried, with a man; and the hero's friend, who tries to turn him away from the path leading to terrorism by reminding him that not all of the West is anti-Islamic, as exemplified by the popular demonstrations across the world in support of the Iraqis when the U.S. had announced its decision to invade. This is a truly excellent book that deserves to be read by everyone.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An amazing, important novel which probes the psychological factors which turn a disgruntled youth into a suicide bomber.
Published 3 months ago by Edwin Vartan Gerard
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent book, even though many traumatic events are narrated.
Published 3 months ago by Daphne A. Morgan Hurst
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and Beautiful
Devastatingly real. The book puts you inside the mind and soul of the Itaqi people as they endure loss and privation as their world crumbles in the path of the American invasion.
Published 9 months ago by Sharon Pratscher
3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty Good But Predictable
I loved the story and the writing but thought the development of the events was too predictable!! Perhaps the author needed to do a little bit more research on Iraqi... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Avid Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this bood
With the US waist deep in the mid East conflict, this is a must read. Khadra captures the emotions from all the aspects within the lives of the people who live in the country we... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Tom Roth
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative, powerful read
This is the third novel I've read by Yasmina Khadra, and I found it to be even more compelling than the first two (The Attack & The Swallows of Kabul). Read more
Published 23 months ago by DReader
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Book for a Good Price
My only complaint about the product was that there is a big "used" sticker on the side of it (yes I did buy it used). Other than that the product came in good shape.
Published on November 26, 2012 by Brandon A. Skoric
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving story / Variable dialogue / Important novel
The author knows what Western readers need to hear in order to understand "Arabic" anger and despair in the 20th and 21st centuries. Read more
Published on February 13, 2012 by Les carbonnades flamandes
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding
Author Yasmina Khadra (a female pseudonym for Mohammed Moulessehoul)is becoming one of my favorite authors. Read more
Published on January 7, 2011 by Chandler H. Cobb
4.0 out of 5 stars Creation of a Terrorist
Mohammed Moulessehoul, who writes as Yasmina Khadra, is a former officer of the Algerian army, an army that for the better part of the last two decades has primarily involved... Read more
Published on October 15, 2008 by Sam Sattler
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