Summary and book reviews of The President's Gardens by Mushin Al-Ramli

The President's Gardens

by Mushin Al-Ramli

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

One Hundred Years of Solitude meets The Kite Runner in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

On the third day of Ramadan, the village wakes to find the severed heads of nine of its sons stacked in banana crates by the bus stop. One of them belonged to one of the most wanted men in Iraq, known to his friends as Ibrahim the Fated. How did this good and humble man earn the enmity of so many? What did he do to deserve such a death?

The answer lies in his lifelong friendship with Abdullah Kafka and Tariq the Befuddled, who each have their own remarkable stories to tell. It lies on the scarred, irradiated battlefields of the Gulf War and in the ashes of a revolution strangled in its cradle. It lies in the steadfast love of his wife and the festering scorn of his daughter.

And, above all, it lies behind the locked gates of the President's gardens, buried alongside the countless victims of a pitiless reign of terror.

CHAPTER 1
Sons of the Earth Crack

In a land without bananas, the village awoke to nine banana crates, each containing the severed head of one of its sons. Along with each head was an ID card to identify the victim since some of the faces were completely disfigured, either by torture before the beheading or by something similar after the slaughter. The characteristic features by which they had been known through all the years of their bygone lives were no longer present to distinguish them.

The first person to notice these crates alongside the main street was the dull-witted herdsman, Isma'il. Curious, he approached without dismounting from his donkey. The donkey's image was inextricably tied to Isma'il's in the minds of the people because of how long he had ridden it—sidesaddle, both legs hanging down on the same side—as though the two of them shared one body. As soon as Isma'il saw the bloody heads inside the boxes, he slid off his donkey and bent ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

We might already know the cruel end that awaits Ibrahim but his life's story and those of his fellow citizens along the way make for a compelling narrative precisely because of their essential ordinariness. Occasionally the (translated) sentences feel a little belabored but they don't detract from this visceral and touching story of everyday lives carved hollow by war in a country the West largely seems to have forgotten.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review Members Only (665 words).

Media Reviews

Library Journal
Starred Review. This powerful, sweeping novel, which was long-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, called the 'Arabic Booker,' is highly recommended. It profoundly humanizes modern Mideast history for Western readers.

The National (UK)
A stunning achievement ... Abdullah's journey gives the book its title: he ends up tending the Iraqi president's sumptuous garden - but of course digging holes in the earth is not as innocuous a task as it might seem under his rule. [Yet] Saddam Hussein's name is never mentioned, which has the effect of allowing The President's Gardens to work as a comment on any totalitarian regime.

The Guardian (UK)
Though firmly rooted in its context, The President's Gardens' concerns are universal. It is a profoundly moving investigation of love, death and injustice, and an affirmation of the importance of dignity, friendship and meaning amid oppression. The novel is undoubtedly a tragedy, but its light touch and persistent humor make it an enormous pleasure to read.

Financial Times (UK)
A story buffeted by the wider ties of history: the bloody churn of dictatorship, invasion, and occupation ... The President's Gardens evokes the fantastical, small-town feel of One Hundred Years of Solitude...Shocks and enchants.

Glasgow Herald (UK)
A beautiful novel ... In writing about ordinary Iraqis who pay the cost of wars waged by remote, autocratic leaders, Al-Ramli touches on deep and timeless themes ... Consistently compelling.

The Tablet
This compelling novel's many strands and contradictions fill the reader with a range of intense and complex emotions: anger at the war, sorrow for the people of Iraq; deep humility in the face of such suffering and endurance. Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with whom he is often compared, Al-Ramli has created a specific village that manages to be universal and a story that is rooted in history while reaching forward into the present day.

El Mundo
One of the most important contemporary Iraqi novelists and writers.

Arab News
Al-Ramli is an author who can sum up feelings in just a few words. His characters you may only meet for a moment but they will stay with you forever. He is an important and insightful storyteller and a writer whose work adds a unique dimension to the many stories that make up our literary world.

Author Blurb Hassan Blasim, winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
Deeply painful and satirical, The President's Gardens is a contemporary tragedy of epic proportions. No author is better placed than Muhsin Al-Ramli, already a star in the Arabic literary scene, to tell this story. I read it in one sitting.

Author Blurb Miral Al-Tahawy, author of Brooklyn Heights
A novel filled with details ... with passion, homeland, revolution, and grief. It represents a landmark in the progression of Iraqi literature.

Author Blurb Malu Halasa, co-author and editor of Syria Speaks
Masterful ... In The President's Gardens, the dead have already suffered enough; it is the living who do not come away unscathed.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Saddam Hussein

Saddam HusseinSaddam Hussein, Iraq's dictator, ruled the country with an iron fist under the guise of numerous grandiose titles including President and The Knight of the Arab Nation, for nearly twenty-five years (1979-2003). In The President's Gardens, the character Ibrahim's most surreal job is to bury the people killed by the President's retinue almost every day. Such horrific atrocities were pretty commonplace under Hussein's regime, with the dictator disposing of people who showed even the slightest disloyalty toward him.

During his tenure he maintained a facade of impenetrability, always having his hair colored and, because he walked with a limp, insisting on being filmed only for a few short minutes at a time. He might have ...

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