The Orange Trees of Baghdad. In Search of My Lost Family. Leilah Nadir. In Argo catalog.
This is the story of a woman whose father left Iraq at the age of 16 and never managed to return because wars and Saddam Hussein made a return unsafe. Leilah always wanted to visit her homeland, and possibly move there with her family. This book is her story about the recent wars and sanctions and their effects on her family. I thought this book would be angry and galvanizing; I thought it would be a poetic memoir that was extremely critical of the American occupation or Iraq; I thought wrong.
Her impressions are more balanced than I expected. As a person that has always lived in the West (spending time in Vancouver, Montreal and the U.K.) she has a pretty clear idea of what life is like here. The upshot is that while critical of the occupation (not being sure what the purpose of it is nor what good it will lead to and angry at the waste involved in both lives and cultural works) she has never been willing to even visit Iraq let alone move there despite having many heartfelt reasons to do so.Â She wants the country to go through massive changes to become livable and so it is hard for her to be completely against the war. She wants a peaceful Iraq so that she can live there but she concedes it was not peaceful prior to the occupation. She does not think war is the answer but she does not forward a better option for changing the country.
The writing in the book is only mediocre and the story is dramatic but the tragic elements are not well harnessed by Nadir. She does pick up speed and power near the end of the book. Her discussion of Farah Noshâ€™s photographs of injured Iraqis is powerful. It made me want to see the photos, perhaps try to get a showing of them here in Montreal. The writing is elegant when some of her women relatives from Baghdad manage to make it to London and there is a gathering in the kitchen. The womenÂ talk about their life experiences and the Iraqis womenâ€™s impressions of the West while the recipe of what they are cooking is slowly revealed. Passages like this one make me want to read a later book by her, she seems to have learned a lot about writing over the course of this book.
This is a book worth reading if you are interested in the history of the Middle-East or the impact of modern warfare on the â€œlittle peopleâ€ or â€œeveryman/woman.â€ This is not a book for readers that see the world in black and white and refuse to accept the gray sides of our complicated world. If you are someone that was compelled by Sergio de Melloâ€™s attempts at diplomacy with genocidal rulers then you will like this book. If it was about Afghanistan and the impacts of war on its people I would suggest all Canadians read it, as it stands I suspect there is a lot of crossover between the two topics.