THE PRESIDENT'S GARDENS: Year of Adventurous Reading book group
For April, our Adventurous Reading travels bring us to Iraq, for a contemporary tragedy of epic proportions, dramatising the events of the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion. One Hundred Years of Solitude meets The Kite Runner in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
"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"
Hassan Blasim, winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for The Iraqi Christ.
Once you have read The President's Gardens, why not mull over some of the questions below?
1. Which of the three Sons of the Earth Crack do you like most? Or the least?
2. What did you think of the author’s decision never to refer to “The President” by the name that he is known to history?
3. How much sympathy did you feel for Qisma? Do you think her attitude to her father is in any way justified?
4. Did the novel make you think about the two Gulf Wars in a different way?
5. What do you think the author’s attitude to religion might be, based on elements of the story such as the murder of Abdullah’s mother?
6. Which relationship in the novel between two characters did you find the most interesting?
7. What do you think about the “doubling” in the story – the way in which the opening pages of the first chapter are repeated and then continued at the end? Are you aware that this is a traditional mode of Arabic literature?
8. Do you get a sense that the Iraq of the novel is firmly split into separate urban and rural cultures?
9. What do you think about the fact that there are no American characters in the novel, even though it covers the Gulf War and the American invasion?
10. Would you agree with the statement: “Abdullah and Tariq are both cynical, but in very different ways”?
Feeling bereft after finishing The President's Gardens? Hopefully some of these suggestions can fill the void.
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (translated by Jonathan Wright)
From the rubble-strewn streets of US-occupied Baghdad, the scavenger Hadi collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. Hadi soon realises he has created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive.
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
An unforgettable depiction of the psychological impact of war, by a young Iraq veteran and poet. It centres on a promise made to a young man's mother, that her son would be brought home safely from the war in Iraq.
Yalo by Elias Khoury (translated by Humphrey Davies)
This novel is a modern Thousand and One Nights, a series of confessions extracted under torture, a recitation of all of its eponymous protagonist’s memories, all his sorrows, all his guilt – and of the other crimes his interrogators have him confess to.
The Bridge over the Drina by Ivo Andrić
One of Muhsin’s influences direct influences, The Bridge on the Drina is a vivid depiction of the suffering history has imposed upon the people of Bosnia from the late 16th century to the beginning of World War I.
The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi (translated by Luke Leafgren)
It’s 1991 and the Gulf War is raging. Two girls, hiding in an air raid shelter, tell stories to keep the fear and the darkness at bay, and a deep friendship is born.
Qisma’s Fate by Muhsin Al-Ramli (working title) (translated by Luke Leafgren
Muhsin is writing a follow-up to The President's Gardens, to be published in 2019.