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The Sirens of Baghdad [Paperback]

Yasmina Khadra , John Cullen
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 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: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #276,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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11 of 12 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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5.0 out of 5 stars An ending that took my breath away! August 10, 2015
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is just devastating! The end had me too weepy to actually read. The story begins in a Beirut hotel where the unnamed narrator is about to carry out a mission he refers to as “the greatest operation ever carried out on enemy territory.” We learn that he was a university student from a small village in Iraq but after the invasion the university closes and her returns to his small village. For awhile life is as it has always been. He is restless and wishes he could return to school or at least find work but then reminds himself that at least the war has not affected his village. Then things change.

Following the killing of a mentally handicapped village boy by soldiers at a checkpoint and the then the bombing of a wedding party, young men from the village grow increasingly restless and begin leaving for Baghdad, hoping to fight back. The narrator grows increasingly frustrated. When his family home is invaded and his father humiliated in front of the family, he can no longer bear it and he too leaves for Baghdad. At first he tries to lead a normal life but conditions there make that impossible. He winds up on the street and after weeks of being homeless he discovers his cousin Sayed has a prosperous business selling appliances. Sayed takes him in and gives him a job. In no time the narrator discovers that his cousin's appliance business is a front for much more dangerous operations, which he is ultimately recruited into.

One of the things I found most touching about this story was the way the young men of the village, trying to make sense of the invasion, cling to the belief that sooner or later the West will understand the beauty of their culture and leave them alone.
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5 of 5 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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By Ranger
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Sirens of Baghdad is the third book in Yasmina Khadra's fundamentalist trilogy about the cultural conflicts both within Islam and between the Islamic World and the West. The setting for this book is Iraq after the American invasion. The narrator, an unnamed Bedouin youth from Kafr Karam, is a naive former college student, forced to leave the university by the war, who becomes gradually more radicalized by the outrages of the American occupation. When American "GIs" humiliate his father during a search for weapons, he leaves his village for good to join the resistance and avenge his family's honor. Along the way, he meets various characters portraying the contrasting elements of Iraqi society. These portrayals are meant to showcase different Arab perspectives about Islam and the West and, while obvious literary devices, are very well-handled by the author. Khadra is the Arab literary descendent of fellow Algerian Albert Camus and this is high-end existential literature. But the setting, conflicts and action are more unsettling and interesting than anything by Camus. You know you are getting inside the head of an Arab mind that recognizes all of the perplexing ironies and torturous complexities not just of the Iraq war but of the larger Islamic conflict with the West. The book's Beirut ending, when the narrator's humanity finally overcomes his outrage, is wrenching. Actually, the entire Beirut episode comes off a bit artificial as the protagonist discovers that his provincial attitudes, Bedouin sense of honor and nascent Iraqi nationalism are all at odds with the larger apocalyptic ideas of fundamentalist Islam. But, having recently read two other books on the biological terror threat against the West, this part of the book also struck very close to home. Highly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 10 months ago by HAROLD KING
4.0 out of 5 stars good
Good book. Came in good condition.
Published 10 months ago by Lane
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I enjoy non-fiction, historical fiction from other cultures.
I enjoyed this book very much!
Published 16 months ago by Amy E. Hysell
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 22 months ago by Edwin Vartan Gerard
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent book, even though many traumatic events are narrated.
Published 22 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 on March 3, 2014 by Amazon Customer
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 on January 17, 2014 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 on August 13, 2013 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 on January 25, 2013 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
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