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: Air Traffic by Gregory Pardlo

Updated 22 April 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Air Traffic by Gregory Pardlo

  • The author examines the ramifications of the episode on his family’s legacy, then expands to consider questions of race, addiction and fatherhood

Air Traffic is a courageously written book that chronicles among other things Gregory Pardlo’s complex relationship with members of his family, particularly his father and younger brother.

Gregory Pardlo’s father was one of the thousands of air traffic controllers fired in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. The author examines the ramifications of the episode on his family’s legacy, then expands to consider questions of race, addiction and fatherhood.

Pardlo “is a talented writer and he examines so many issues in this memoir — race, economics, manhood, addiction, family and sibling relationships, marriage and parenthood,” says a review published in goodreads.com. A review published in The New York Times, Janet Maslin said: “The book is centered on the troubled relationship between the author and his father, although it roams freely in many other directions ... Simple description does not do Pardlo’s story justice; only his own sublime words can achieve that.” The review added: “When Pardlo won the Pulitzer in 2015 for his collection Digest, the citation praised his ‘clear-voiced poems that bring readers the news from 21st-century America, rich with thought, ideas and histories public and private.’ Replace the word ‘poems’ with the word “essays,” and you have an apt description of the second part of Air Traffic.”