- Publisher: MacLehose Press (April 20, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780857056788
- ISBN-13: 978-0857056788
- ASIN: 0857056786
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,698,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The President's Gardens Paperback – April 20, 2017
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It was this duality of life that I found most difficult initially to grasp and I think this is why it took me a good quarter of the book to really get into the story. The first scene, of nine heads delivered in banana crates, is incredibly powerful. Al-Ramli then drops down several gears to begin a story of childhood friendship and I struggled to reconcile these and other threads, attempting to do so too soon instead of allowing the writing to lead me. The President's Gardens is harrowing and shocking, but also surprisingly humble and understated. I liked that we get to know the characters well and I could always understand their reasons for particular actions and choices. Ordinary people living through extreme times makes for fascinating literature, particularly so in this novel as so much of the background is essentially true and so recent.
On the third day of Ramadan, 2006, the severed heads of nine men were found in an Iraqi village. Explaining what lead up to that climactic juncture is done by retracing the lives of three friends as they unfold. Abdullah, Ibrahim, and Tariq were inseparable from early childhood onward, whether playing, going to school, hunting or learning about girls, where one was found there other two were sure to be. Collectively they became known as ‘the sons of the earth crack.’ At childhood’s end, Abdullah and Ibrahim are inducted into the army and go to war. Tariq, shielded by his father, goes on to the university. As the years roll by, all the sadness, disappointment, and mayhem these three endure is laid out in excruciating detail. All will soon find that only grotesquery blooms in the gardens when the “President” is Saddam Hussein.
“The President’s Gardens” does not read like a work of fiction. It is, I believe, a string of anecdotes and personal experiences that are skillfully arranged into book form. Does that add special value, given the awful events it describes? Is it honest in what it tells the reader? The deep divisions in Iraq and much of the bloodletting is a direct result of the endemic religious bigotry present in the nation. That internecine violence is barely mentioned, and when it is noted the subject is not addressed with any specificity. The cruelty of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the influence of Islam and the collective effect these forces have on the habitués of this strange landscape also make “The President’s Gardens” a story with no joy or enlightenment in it. Is it even worth reading? Is it more than just a long lament about the poverty, bestiality, and devastation that Hussein and war visited on the people of Iraq? I cannot make those decisions for you, but for me, the answer is no.
My thanks to MacLehose Press and NetGalley for providing the advance digital copy used in writing this review.
Al-Ramlin weaves an intriguing web of Ibrahim’s story, along with his friends, Abdullah Kafka and Tariq the Befuddled. And, at the heart of the story, is its connection to the secrets lying behind the locked gates of the President’s gardens.
Thank you to Muhsin Al-Ramli, MacLehose Press, and Netgalley for the copy to review.