Book Review: Exploring the roots of Iraqi independence, one man at a time

Ruaqaya Izzidien ties together two worlds in her new debut novel 'The Watermelon Boys'. (Shutterstock)
Updated 08 November 2018
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Book Review: Exploring the roots of Iraqi independence, one man at a time

CHICAGO: From Hoopoe Press comes a powerful debut novel by Ruqaya Izzidien, “The Watermelon Boys,” that begins in 1915 in the area now known as Iraq at the height of World War I and during the early stages of Iraqi independence. Through her main characters, Ahmad from Iraq and Carwyn from Wales, Izzidien writes of the turbulent stories that make up the history of Iraq and explores the fate of a country that is made up of multiple faiths and traditions in which countrymen are bound together by the desire for statehood.

Izzidien ties together two worlds — in one, Ahmad from Baghdad struggles to decide between continuing to fight against the British for the Ottoman Empire or switching allegiances to fight against the Ottomans for Iraqi Independence. Meanwhile, a young Welshman named Carwyn finds his way into the Fourth Battalion of the South Wales Borderers and, ultimately, to Iraq. He, like Ahmad, struggles to fight for a force he sees as colonizers. Both men are conflicted, both are out of place, and both must find their voice and their independence through war.

Izzidien’s strength lies in her ability to take a complex history and to turn it into the heartbreakingly emotional stories that are the foundation of said history. Her writing is relatable and profound. The way her story moves, between people and their lives, their joy and pain, weaves a picture that is at times dark and at other times beautiful. Through her characters, she consistently portrays the conflicts of war, the grey areas in which soldiers fight for complicated outcomes, where allegiances and loyalty must be given to the men of the hour and where dreams should never be forgotten. She confronts the complicated circumstances of Iraqi independence, the fallacy that Iraq as a country must be established by outside forces and that people whose roots have been embedded in the land for generations have no say in their future.

Izzidien’s brilliant novel is another reminder of the devastatingly multifaceted history that makes up Iraq, in which decades of occupation, colonization and war have reshaped the borders.

 


What We Are Reading Today: Collecting - An Unruly Passion

Updated 14 December 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Collecting - An Unruly Passion

Author: Werner Muensterberger

From rare books, valuable sculptures and paintings, the relics of saints, and porcelain and other precious items, through stamps, textiles, military ribbons, and shells, to baseball cards, teddy bears, and mugs, an amazing variety of objects have engaged and even obsessed collectors through the ages.
With this captivating book the psychoanalyst Werner Muensterberger provides the first extensive psychological examination of the emotional sources of the never-ending longing for yet another collectible. Muensterberger’s roster of driven acquisition-hunters includes the dedicated, the serious, and the infatuated, whose chronic restlessness can be curbed— and then merely temporarily — only by purchasing, discovering, receiving, or even stealing a new “find.” In an easy, conversational style, the author discusses the eccentricities of heads of state, literary figures, artists, and psychoanalytic patients, all possessed by a need for magic relief from despair and helplessness — and for the self-healing implied in the phrase “I can’t live without it!”
The central part of the work explores in detail the personal circumstances and life history of three individuals: a contemporary collector, Martin G; the celebrated British book and manuscript collector Sir Thomas Phillipps and the great French novelist Honoré de Balzac, a compulsive collector of bric-a-brac who expressed his empathy for the acquisitive passions of his collector protagonist in Cousin Pons.