Monday, August 19, 2019

Book Review: 'The Gardener of Baghdad' by Ahmad Ardalan

The Gardener of Baghdad
Ahmad Ardalan, born in Baghdad in 1979, but at the age of two he moved with his parents to Vienna, Austria. After his father's diplomatic mission finished at the end of 1989, he returned to Iraq, where he continued his studies and graduated from the University of Dentistry. As a result of the unstable political, military, social, and economic conditions in his home country, Ahmad left Iraq and move to the UAE. Not finding dentistry a satisfying option, he pursued employment in the business world, holding several senior roles within the pharmaceutical and FMCG industries, throughout much of the Middle East. He has successfully penned three books with this nostalgic story being his second publication.

Ahmad sets the tenor of the times in Baghdad in his opening paragraphs: `Adnan brushed away the last shards of shattered window glass that were scattered all over the floor. It had taken six hours of effort, hard labor, to restore his bookstore to order, but finally, a new window was in place, and there was no dangerous glass shrapnel anywhere for any of his customers to step on. Luckily for Adnan, he was in the back with a customer when the roadside bomb exploded, the third in two years. The thing exploded about 500 feet away from his store, aimed at a small gathering of workers, and it had taken its bitter toll: five casualties and dozens of injured workers in all.'

Once the setting is created we move into this timely yet timeless story of survival in the worst of ties. Ahmad's synopsis at the beginning of his book outlines the plots well: `"Two people, one city, different times; connected by a memoir. Can love exist in a city destined for decades of misery?" Adnan leads a weary existence as a bookshop owner in modern-day, war-torn Baghdad, where bombings, corruption and assault are everyday occurrences and the struggle to survive has suffocated the joy out of life for most. But when he begins to clean out his bookshop of forty years to leave his city in search of somewhere safer, he comes across the story of Ali, the Gardener of Baghdad, Adnan rediscovers through a memoir handwritten by the gardener decades ago that beauty, love and hope can still exist, even in the darkest corners of the world.'

This story is well sculpted, generous in its sharing of the conditions of Baghdad that remain today, and yet opens a light on a love story that proves there is a light at the end of every tunnel. Poetic, emotionally satisfy, this book is the work of a very fine young author. Read it and understand the tragedies that are befalling the Middle East - in art, in compassion, and in hope. Grady Harp, August 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.