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

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: Systemic Corruption by Camila Vergara

Updated 29 September 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Systemic Corruption by Camila Vergara

This provocative book reveals how the majority of modern liberal democracies have become increasingly oligarchic, suffering from a form of structural political decay first conceptualized by ancient philosophers. Systemic Corruption argues that the problem cannot be blamed on the actions of corrupt politicians but is built into the very fabric of our representative systems.

Camila Vergara provides a compelling and original genealogy of political corruption from ancient to modern thought, and shows how representative democracy was designed to protect the interests of the already rich and powerful to the detriment of the majority. Unable to contain the unrelenting force of oligarchy, especially after experimenting with neoliberal policies, most democracies have been corrupted into oligarchic democracies. Vergara explains how to reverse this corrupting trajectory by establishing a new counterpower strong enough to control the ruling elites. Building on the anti-oligarchic institutional innovations proposed by plebeian philosophers, she rethinks the republic as a mixed order in which popular power is institutionalized to check the power of oligarchy. Vergara demonstrates how a plebeian republic would establish a network of local assemblies with the power to push for reform from the grassroots, independent of political parties and representative government.

Drawing on neglected insights from Niccolò Machiavelli, Nicolas de Condorcet, Rosa Luxemburg, and Hannah Arendt, Systemic Corruption proposes to reverse the decay of democracy with the establishment of anti-oligarchic institutions through which common people can collectively resist the domination of the few.