After a slow start, this became an interesting and revealing narrative about the effects of two Gulf wars and the attached sanctions, on the Iraqi civilian population. Narrated from the point of view of a young girl who grows up in a disintegrating Baghdad, it becomes clear just how insidious the sanctions were, effectively causing more destruction than the missiles.
The voice of the un-named narrator begins as that of a child, which initially had me concerned that this was going to be the writing style for the whole book. Thankfully, the narrator matures and with it her narrative voice. She introduces us to some of the characters of the village, the wacky, the sad and the ever hopeful. I will never forget the watch-marks bitten on the wrists of children by Uncle Shawkat, or his loyal pet dog, Biryad.
As the young girl and her friend Nadia grow into teenagers, they share their loves and loses, until the inevitable time when the black Chevrolet comes to the door and spirits them away with their families to a safer haven, one that will never truly be Home.
It's a raw commentary on the other side of war, the one that we didn't see from TV reports and newspapers. This is a book that should be widely read and now that it has been awarded the Edinburgh Book Festival's First Book Award, this will begin to happen.
Shahad Al Rawi spent her childhood in Baghdad, reaching secondary school before moving with her parents to Syria. I'm glad to say she then moved to Dubai, where I am looking forward to hearing her speak at our Literary Festival in March.