The President’s Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli – By Wajeeha Mohsin

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BOOK REVIEW
The President’s Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli
By Wajeeha Mohsin

It is seldom that a book translated from another language maintains its ‘feel’ without compromising the prose-like quality of the original. Luke Leafgren manages to achieve this daunting task in his translation of this epic novel by Muhsin Al-Ramli. Priced at a high price of PKR 1,875 while purchasing I wondered whether or not the book is truly worth this amount. However, to my great surprise, the Al- Ramli not just met my expectations but in fact exceeded them.

The President’s Gardens is a saga about friendship, love, war and betrayal in Saddam Hussain’s Iraq.  Iraq stayed in the headlines throughout the world in the 1980s and 1990s which subsequently generated a lot of references to Saddam in books, literature and movies. However, few are able to provide an insiders’ view of this era.  Those of us who have grown up reading about the Iran-Iraq war through the viewpoint of American or Iranian writers this book provides a brand new perspective.  This multi-generational story takes us on a journey with Abdullah Kafka, Tariq the Befuddled and Ibrahim the fated.  Born in 1959, the three are fast friends. Together (although each in a different way) they are a representative of a generation that has lived through turmoil for a great part of their lives. Abdullah and Ibrahim get conscripted for military services just as Iran-Iraq war breaks out. Abdullah is captured by the Iranians while Ibrahim returns only to face the horrors of war once again as Saddam makes a disastrous decision to invade Kuwait.  The writer is direct in his narrative and does not shy away from describing the horrors of war.  At merely 400 pages, the book is fast-paced yet philosophical and deeply introspective.

As much as I have enjoyed reading The President’s Gardens the book is not without its flaws. The most glaring flaw, in my opinion, is that of structure-  there are parts that don’t fit in as well as the others while some pertinent information is revealed to the reader a bit too late thus disrupting the wonderful flow that author has created. Overall I would rate it at 4 stars out of 5.  It is only recently that the books narrating the life in Iraq have started to be translated into English especially since the downfall of Saddam Hussain making The President’s Gardens a rare gem. Though rooted in the context of Iraq, the book deals with some universal themes even if you are not interested in this region’s history I would recommend that you give it a try.

Wajeeha Mohsin is an HR professional from Lahore, Pakistan. She has done her master’s from London School of Economics and Political Sciences. She enjoys reading, travelling and binge-watching crime shows.