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

    Paperback:
    Apr 2019, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Jad'an later told the story to the village elders as they sat together, drinking their morning coffee. They all burst out laughing and praised the boys' solidarity and fidelity to the ideal of true friendship. The story circulated widely, just as everything said in the village reached every ear, even when whispered in confidence. From that time the name "sons of the earth crack" became commonplace.

Abdullah wasn't lying when he said that he was the son of the earth crack, for that is what he knew at the time, as did everyone else. But now, nearly fifty years old, he was the only one who knew the origin of the story. The mayor's wife Zaynab, who had tarried in life until he returned from the long years of his captivity in Iran, had told him the truth of the matter.

He alone knew that she was his grandmother, and that the dull-witted herdsman, Isma'il, was his maternal uncle. His story was like something out of the old melodramas from India, so it was no surprise that he was known for defining life as "a Hindi movie."

About himself he would say, "I am a victim and the son of victims. I am the son of the murdered going back to Abel, and I'm surprised not to have been killed yet." Then he would add, "The logic of my ancestors' history stipulates that my death be connected with love. Perhaps my failure to bind myself to the one I loved is what has come between me and my death. Or else that failure itself is my true downfall ... Perhaps I am the final sentence in this volume containing the family tree of the murdered."

Abdullah did not clarify to anyone the true secret behind his allusions. And no one asked him for any explanation since they were used to such pronouncements, which they called his "philosophizing." The inscrutability of these sayings usually baffled them, and people would interpret them as they pleased or else forget about them entirely. Abdullah didn't disclose the secret even to his lifelong friends despite their implicit mutual pledge to secrecy. In turn, they too carried secrets in their breasts that they resolved would remain confined unto death. Everybody has a secret, maybe more than one, which they decide not to reveal to anyone. Sometimes because it is shameful, embarrassing, or painful. Sometimes because they don't find the right opportunity to announce it: the secret's time hasn't yet come, or else it has passed, and its revelation no longer carries any meaning or importance.

Abdullah was raised at the hands of good parents who loved him as though he were the fruit of their loins. If he had been a girl, they would have named him Hadiya, "gift," because they believed he was "a gift from above." Abdullah's parents said that repeatedly throughout their lives.

Salih and Maryam's small mud house was at the very edge of the village, on the side of the hill by the river. One spring dawn, when the white of the first approaching light scattered the last remnants of the retreating darkness, Maryam awoke as usual and went out to the square mud stall that rose as high as the shoulder of someone standing beside it. At a distance of sixty steps from the door, it was situated in the farthest part of the dwelling's courtyard, right above a deep crack in the side of the hill. This crack had been made by a torrential rain many long years before, and Salih had put it to good use as a toilet, which they called "the pit."

Previously, Salih and Maryam, like everyone living on the outskirts of the village, used to do their business in the river valley, the thickets, or out in the open after nightfall. With the crack, Salih did nothing more than construct the mud wall, and since it cost him nothing, he chalked it up to his own ingenuity. You only had to spread your legs to either side of the crack and squat down, then expel your excretions into the mouth of the dark opening, waiting to hear the sound of its fall, hidden in the depths far below.

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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