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

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

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: Freedom by Sebastian Junger

What We Are Reading Today: Freedom by Sebastian Junger
Updated 15 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Freedom by Sebastian Junger

What We Are Reading Today: Freedom by Sebastian Junger

In his past work, Sebastian Junger has focused on the experience of US troops, embedding with a platoon in Afghanistan and exploring post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans. 

His new book follows Junger and his companions — including a photographer and two Afghan War vets — as they walk along US East Coast railroads, relying on one another for survival and comfort. 

Moving between travelogue, history, nature writing, observation and philosophy, Freedom raises essential human questions in new frames. As Junger writes about the meanings of freedom and community, he occasionally swerves into boxing strategy, labor history and primatology.

“As we journey with Junger along the railways and riverways of Pennsylvania we delve into the idea and ideal of freedom and what it means to each of us,” said a review in goodreads.com.

“This little powerhouse of a book is at once a relaxing, meditative walk along the tracks while also providing a starting point for great, in depth conversations on what it means to be free.” Junger is also the author of non-fiction books such as War and The Perfect Storm.


What We Are Reading Today: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason

What We Are Reading Today: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason
Updated 15 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason

What We Are Reading Today: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason

How Iceland Changed the World takes readers on a tour of history, showing them how Iceland played a pivotal role in events as diverse as the French Revolution and the Moon Landing. 

It is an in-depth, informative, and fascinating chronicle of Iceland’s mostly unknown contributions to the world.

“Again and again, one humble nation has found itself at the frontline of historic events, shaping the world as we know it. How Iceland Changed the World paints a lively picture of just how it all happened,” said a review on goodreads.com. 

Author Egill Bjarnason is an Icelandic journalist, based in Reykjavík.

As a Fulbright Foreign Student grantee, he earned a master’s degree in social documentation at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he also worked as a teaching assistant in photography and statistics for two years.

Bjarnason “places Iceland at the center of everything, and his narrative not only entertains but enlightens, uncovering unexpected connections,” said Andri Magnason, author of On Time and Water, in a recent review.


What We Are Reading Today: Extra Life by Steven Johnson

What We Are Reading Today: Extra Life by Steven Johnson
Updated 14 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Extra Life by Steven Johnson

What We Are Reading Today: Extra Life by Steven Johnson

In Extra Life, Steven Johnson, a writer of popular books on science and technology, tells the stories behind what he calls, in an understatement, “one of the greatest achievements in the history of our species.” 

As in his previous books Where Good Ideas Come From and How We Got to Now, Johnson argues convincingly that critical changes occur not from the endeavors of lone geniuses but from a network of researchers, activists, reformers, publicists, producers, and marketers.

Human interest aside, Extra Life is an important book, said a review in The New York Times. 

Johnson “shakes us out of our damnable ingratitude and explains features of modernity that are reviled by sectors of the right and left: Government regulation, processed food, high-tech farming, big data and bureaucracies like the US Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. He is open about their shortcomings and dangers. But much depends on whether we see them as evils that must be abolished or as lifesavers with flaws that must be mitigated.”


What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne
Updated 13 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon spans two astonishing stories. 

The first traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. 

The second entails one of the most remarkable narratives ever to come out of the Old West: The epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches.

Although readers may be more familiar with the tribal names Apache and Sioux, it was in fact the legendary fighting ability of the Comanches that determined just how and when the American West opened up.

The book delivers a sweeping narrative that encompasses Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, and the arrival of the railroads — a historical feast for anyone interested in how the US came into being.

S. C. Gwynne’s account of these events is meticulously researched, intellectually provocative, and, above all, thrillingly told.


What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden
Updated 12 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden

In Blood, Sweat and Chalk, Tim Layden takes readers into the meeting rooms where football’s most significant ideas were hatched. He goes to the coaches and to the players who inspired them, and lets them tell their stories. 

The modern game of football is filled with plays and formations with names like the Counter Trey, the Wildcat, the Zone Blitz and the Cover Two. 

They have become part of the sport’s vernacular, and yet for many fans they remain just names, often confusing ones. To rectify that, Layden has drilled deep into the core of the game to reveal not only how these chalkboard X’s and O’s really work on the field, but also where they came from and who dreamed them up. 

These playbook schemes, many of them illuminated by diagrams, bear the insignia of some of the game’s great innovators, men like Vince Lombardi, Don Coryell, Tom Osborne, Bill Walsh, Tony Dungy and Buddy Ryan. 

In this book, Layden provides a fascinating guide to the game, helping fans to better see the subtleties of America’s favorite sport.