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Absent, by Betool Khedairi.

May 29, 2015

Absent, by Betool Khedairi.  Random House Trade Paperbacks (2007), Paperback, 240 pages.

4 stars

A fascinating story about a young woman and the residents of her apartment house in Baghdad as they seek ways to survive in the destruction of the 1990s.

Dalal is an orphan who lives with her childless aunt and uncle. Unusually, her uncle chooses to go by the name “father of the absent one,” and absence is a theme in the novel. As the author notes, the Iraqi people have all too often been absent from western discussions of their country and the wars through which they have suffered.

At first Absent seems to be simply a loosely structured account of Dalal, her aunt and uncle–and the others in their apartment building–all of whom are struggling to survive the dictatorship, the economic embargo, and the bombings. They are a wonderful mix of people from various parts of Iraqi society; an herbalist/fortune teller, a nurse, a hairdresser, and Dalal’s aunt, who brings in money from sewing and her uncle who becomes a beekeeper. But quietly a plot develops out of the chaos of their lives.

Betool Khedairi was born in Bagdad, the child of an Iraqi man and a Scottish mother. She has lived much of her life in Amman, Jordan, and traveled widely. Her sense of how little those whose nations invaded Iraq knew about its people was the impetus for her writing this book. She is a skilled and impressive writer able to create intriguing characters and involve them in a complex, and surprising plot.

I strongly recommend this book to all who enjoy a fresh new literary voice.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. aartichapati permalink
    May 30, 2015 4:36 pm

    Hmm, interesting. I don’t know if I can fully tell what this book is about, but I like the commentary on how Iraqis have been left out of discussions about their own country. Definitely one to look into.

  2. May 30, 2015 6:55 pm

    Definitely adding this to my tbr list!

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