On the third day of Ramadan 2006, nine decapitated heads are delivered in banana boxes to an Iraqi village. One of the heads belongs to Ibrahim, a quiet, gentle, humble soul. The President’s Gardens unravels through a story involving three generations under the backdrop of the invasion of Kuwait, the first Gulf War and the lead up to the US invasion.
The book intertwines the life-long friendship between Ibrahim the Fated, Abdullah Katfa and Tariq the Befuddle known collectively as the sons of the earth crack.
Muhasin describes the complicated village relationships beautifully. As you read the book you feel like you are sitting chain smoking with Abdullah, who spent 20 years of the story in an Iranian prison.
The book takes you on the journey of how residents of a remote village live and survive through the period between the 1980s Iran-Iraq war right through the 2003 invasion. The relationship between different generations, from the woman elder, the mayor’s wife who holds the family secrets in her head until she is able to tell the truth to Ibrahim’s daughter Qisma who becomes estranged emotionally from her father.
There is a chilling description of the hell that was the road to Basra in 1996 at the end of the first Gulf War. He contrasts the hardship of sanctions on ordinary Iraqis with the disgusting luxury and splendur of Saddam Hussein’s palaces and the lives of the Iraqi elite. This is the life of the 1 percent who own 99 percent of the world’s wealth.
The description of preparations before Saddam Hussein boarded his $50 million yacht in the port of Umm Qasr with the bay becoming a hive of activity, reminded me of sitting on a beach in Greece watching the preparation for Prince Charles visiting his own; hour upon hour smaller boats would unload. The parasite was there 24 hours, before moving on to another holiday destination.
I recommend this book, as a reminder of the brutality of imperialism and dictatorship but also the love and humanity of ordinary people who despite everything survive to tell the tale. Once you start it is hard to put down.
Muhsin dedicates his book to the souls of his nine relatives and to all the oppressed in Iraq:
“May the deceased forgive our bitter grief and rest in peace. May the living do their utmost for the sake of peace and tolerance.”
I echo that and also add to all those who have had to flee their country for whatever reason because of this war and others.