Book Review: ‘Baghdad Noir’ tells haunting tales from a diverse city

‘Baghdad Noir’ tells haunting tales from a diverse city. (Shutterstock)
Updated 17 December 2018

Book Review: ‘Baghdad Noir’ tells haunting tales from a diverse city

  • Akashic Books takes its award-winning noir anthology to Iraq in “Baghdad Noir"

CHICAGO:To close out 2018, Akashic Books takes its award-winning noir anthology to Iraq in “Baghdad Noir.” Written by Iraq’s most celebrated authors, and some non-Iraqis, and edited by the cofounder of the contemporary Arab literature magazine “Banipal,” Samuel Shimon, the book features 14 short stories that are as diverse as Iraq’s capital city.

While most of the stories were written following the 2003 US invasion, some were written prior to the war. Most tales touch upon the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein and the violent reign of the Baath Party, the politics that plunged the country into the Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf War, economic sanctions and the aftermath of it all. The authors take their readers on a journey through the streets of Baghdad, introducing them to affected families and their devastating circumstances.

In Shimon’s insightful introduction, he conveys the diverse history of Iraq, its varied landscape and people. Shimon writes that there is no “single national identity” — it is its ethnic diversity that makes Iraq unique and its capital city a hub for diverse story-telling.

Broken down into four sections, the book begins with Muhsin Al-Ramli and his tale of murder in an old Baghdad house, with a courtyard and eight rooms divided among its two stories. Qamar, the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood, has been killed and the residents are left to uncover the details of her death themselves.

Each author moves between the dark corners and shadowy thoughts of Baghdad and its residents. A sense of distrust, pessimism and gloom hangs over each tale. The stories move between families and strangers, between cafes and marketplaces, policemen and magicians, young soldiers and thugs and between sick patients and healthy minds driven mad by the never-ending devastation. With each author comes a twist in the tale that take place on either side of the Tigris River, from the Al-Qadisiya district to Al-Waziriya to the area of Bataween.

Including literary heavyweights such as Ahmed Saadawi, whose novel “Frankenstein in Baghdad” was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, “Baghdad Noir” offers a unique opportunity to explore the inventive genius of various authors and to read haunting stories set in a rich and diverse city.

What We Are Reading Today: The Fate of Rome

Updated 23 March 2019

What We Are Reading Today: The Fate of Rome

Author: Kyle Harper

Here is the monumental retelling of one of the most consequential chapters of human history: The fall of the Roman Empire. The Fate of Rome is the first book to examine the catastrophic role that climate change and infectious diseases played in the collapse of Rome’s power — a story of nature’s triumph over human ambition.
Interweaving a grand historical narrative with cutting-edge climate science and genetic discoveries, Kyle Harper traces how the fate of Rome was decided not just by emperors, soldiers, and barbarians but also by volcanic eruptions, solar cycles, climate instability, and devastating viruses and bacteria.
He takes readers from Rome’s pinnacle in the second century, when the empire seemed an invincible superpower, to its unraveling by the 7th century, when Rome was politically fragmented and materially depleted, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. Harper describes how the Romans were resilient in the face of enormous environmental stress, until the besieged empire could no longer withstand the combined challenges of a “little ice age” and recurrent outbreaks of bubonic plague.