Excerpt from The President's Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The President's Gardens

by Muhsin Al-Ramli

The President's Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli X
The President's Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli
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  • First Published:
    May 2018, 352 pages

    Apr 2019, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Each head had a story. Every one of these nine heads had a family and dreams and the horror of being slaughtered, just like the hundreds of thousands slain in a country stained with blood since its founding and until God inherits the earth and everyone in it. And if every victim had a book, Iraq in its entirety would become a huge library, impossible ever to catalog.

Sheikh Tariq said, "Do not wash the heads, for they are martyrs. A martyr is not washed before being buried because he is purified just as he is. His wounds will exude the scent of musk on the Day of Resurrection."

As the last rites were being performed for the heads, Tariq approached the head of Ibrahim and fell upon it, hugging it to his chest and kissing it so hard that his embrace scraped away the scabs formed by dirt and congealed blood that stopped up the wounds and the veins in the neck. The blood drained from it afresh and stained the front of the sheikh's white robe, his hands, and his beard. They gently pulled him away and wrapped the head in a white burial shroud to match the others, which they buried together in a line. In the end, they dug complete graves the length of a normal man, not the size of a child's, even though they lowered only the heads into their depths.

Abdullah Kafka did not attend the funeral but stayed at the café, smoking. No one blamed him, even though all the people of the village knew the strength of the bond that had existed between these three men since childhood, such that they were called by various epithets, all of which played on the idea of three—" the eternal triad," "the happy threesome," or even "the three butt cheeks in the same briefs" and "the triple balls" and so on—because they would almost never be seen apart until destiny separated them in the days of the Iraq-Iran War. But the most widely used name was "sons of the earth crack." That name had a story, which was itself a testament to the strength of their early alliance.

It went back to the early years of their boyhood, the days when they would swim in the Tigris during the burning heat of July afternoons, quarrel with the girls bathing and washing clothes near the shore, hunt at night for the sand grouse sleeping in the nearby deserts, root out snakes and jerboa from their holes to break off their teeth, and drive off the wolves and jackals. When the Bedouin herdsman Jad'an spotted them near his tent, he didn't recognize them, even though he knew nearly all the villagers on account of his living there with his family and his flock of sheep for one month each year, right after the harvest. He asked Abdullah, "Whose son are you?" And because Abdullah didn't know his real father, he was quiet for a moment and then said, "I'm the son of the earth crack." Jad'an turned to Ibrahim and Tariq with the same question, and they gave the same answer out of solidarity with Abdullah. At that, the Bedouin fell silent for a while, stroking his beard as if in thought, and said, "Yes, we are all sons of the earth crack. The earth is our mother, all of us. Out of her we are born, and to her we return."

Jad'an ruffled their hair affectionately and invited them to his tent to taste "the best butter in the world," as he called it, which was the butter of his wife, Umm Fahda, and to drink some of the milk from her village. The invitation pleased them to the same degree that it filled their souls with fear and trembling, for this was an unexpected opportunity for Tariq to see Fahda, daughter of Jad'an and Umm Fahda, inside her tent, instead of making secret rendezvous with her between the sacks of harvested wheat and barley or among the flock of resting ewes. Did her father know what had been going on between them, and was his invitation nothing more than an ambush to trap them and do God knows what to them? Stories of Bedouin cruelty and betrayals were notorious, especially when connected to questions of honor.

Excerpted from The President's Gardens by Mushin Al-Ramli. Copyright © 2018 by Mushin Al-Ramli. Excerpted by permission of MacLehose Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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