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: Let the People Rule by John G. Matsusaka

Updated 19 February 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Let the People Rule by John G. Matsusaka

Propelled by the belief that government has slipped out of the hands of ordinary citizens, a surging wave of populism is destabilizing democracies around the world. 

As John Matsusaka reveals in Let the People Rule, this belief is based in fact, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. 

Over the past century, while democratic governments have become more efficient, they have also become more disconnected from the people they purport to represent. 

The solution Matsusaka advances is familiar but surprisingly underused: Direct democracy, in the form of referendums. 

While this might seem like a dangerous idea post-Brexit, there is a great deal of evidence that, with careful design and thoughtful implementation, referendums can help bridge the growing gulf between the government and the people.

Drawing on examples from around the world, Matsusaka shows how direct democracy can bring policies back in line with the will of the people (and provide other benefits, like curbing corruption).