||1 September 2012
This is the story of two families trying to live in Baghdad in 2007, and brought together by circumstances outside their control.
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It is 2005. Malik is a good man, who ekes out a living in war-torn Baghdad selling cotton business shirts - perhaps
one a month, if he’s lucky - from a dusty stall on a street corner to support his wife and children. He risks life and limb, every day, driving his old Datsun to and from his stall, through military checkpoints and an obstacle course of snipers, suicide bombers and booby-trapped streets. He worries that his three children will never know a safe and
carefree existence and never get a proper education. Fear and danger are always close at hand - Malik’s neighbour Ismail was recently killed by gunfire outside his front gate while putting out the garbage - and Malik knows the odds are high that he, his wife or his children, or even Mahrus, the confectionery shopkeeper next door to his menswear
stall, could be next.
Aadil is a devoted husband and a father to nine children. Like Malik, he is a good man who wants the best for his family - and peace for Iraq.
Formerly a Colonel in the Republican Guard and an electrical engineer in the Iraqi Army, he no longer has an income: when the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003 to dismantle Saddam Hussein’s regime they told him he was to have no part in the rebuilding of Iraq due to his membership of the Baath Party. With his family on the brink of homelessness and starvation, Aadil is desperate; then one day his eldest son is mistakenly killed on the street by a young, nervous American soldier and Aadil’s spirit is completely crushed. But now, at his son’s funeral, a mysterious man hands him a lifeline in the form of a crushed cigarette packet with a mobile phone number scrawled inside and the promise of one hundred American dollars if he makes contact with the owner of the number.
Aadil rings the number and sets in motion a chain of events that changes the lives of his family, and Malik’s family, Mahrus and his friends irrevocably - in measures both magical and devastating.
Okay everyone. This is important. If I have ever recommended Eleven by Mark Watson to you, or if you in any way appreciate a well written novel that may well wrench your heart in two please read this recommendation.
Flowers of Baghdad by Bruce Lyman is the third book I've ever read that has affected my emotions so strongly that I was shaking as I finished it. It is a truly astonishing and poignant work, beautifully honest in its portrayal of characters and moments. If you take any stock in my opinions of literature, find a copy of this book. You will not regret it.
Adelaide Advertiser 29 Sep 2012
Malik is an Iraqi shirt salesman determined to believe in his country despite the violence tearing it apart. Aadil is a former army offi cer driven by poverty and anger to build electronic detonators for a group of insurgents he hopes is using his devices to fight the Americans, rather than settle private scores. Their stories come together in this finely written and suspenseful first novel by a former Australian intelligence officer and aid worker, which evokes the sectarian divisions, random violence and moral compromises of life in Baghdad during the final years of the last decade. Dark in parts, darkly humorous in others, Flowers of Baghdad speaks to the desire of us all to make a better future, no matter how black the present.
Pick of the Week: Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 12
Many will remember the surreal footage from Baghdad in 1993(sic): the night-time battle of the US cruise missiles, in which the city's darkness was lit up with deceitfully beautiful flashes and arcs of green. As this novel illustrates, Baghdad has long been a place where ordinary citizens go about their daily lives in the knowledge that those lives could end in a heartbeat, cut off by a stray bullet or by the debris of some random bomb.
Set in 2005 (actually 2007), this story is told by three Iraqi narrators: Aadil is an engineer, now in prison after having been lured into supplying electrical components for bombs; Malik is an innocent seller of shirts, whose life philosophy gives this book its title; and Saleema is his lovely wife.
Most Westerners writing in an Eastern voice adopt a ponderous solemnity and Lyman is no exception, but the book is nonetheless an absorbing read with a heartbreaking ending few will see coming.
Review by Kerryn Goldsworthy
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