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The Sirens of Baghdad    by Yasmina Khadra order for
Sirens of Baghdad
by Yasmina Khadra
Order:  USA  Can
Nan A. Talese, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Continuing to highlight desperate lives in various parts of the Middle East, Yasmina Khadra (the nom de plume of Mohammed Moulessehoul) this time looks at a young Iraqi who has been caught in that country's present madness. Hailing from a remote village, he and his villager friends must absorb an unthinking attack on a mentally handicapped youth, another one on a village wedding, and finally, an invasion of his own home, in which his father is humiliated.

Khadra explains many things we might not now understand. He allows us to see these attacks from the villagers' point of view, not from a dispassionate news article. We learn Bedouin ways, especially their idea of honor. We see how appalled the Iraqis are at their own failure to unite and the failure of their leadership. And most importantly, we hear the discussions Iraqis have about U.S. intervention in their affairs.

In his quest to avenge his father's dishonor, the young man travels to Baghdad and tries to become part of what is an extremely violent and unstable group. Here we learn how desperate such radicals are to provide the big hit that will annihilate the West, and how dangerous they really can be, to us and to themselves. With his family in disarray, and Baghdad literally going up in flames, the young man is utterly indifferent to his future and so has no problem volunteering for a mission of self-immolation.

Once again, Khadra has written an important work that deserves to be widely read if we in the West are ever to begin to understand the values and culture that inform this part of the world. It is a complex area and very different from ours, but Khadra manages simply and clearly to present us with the message and need for humanity on all sides. Kudos must also go to translator John Cullen, who has done the same excellent work as with Khadra's The Swallows of Kabul and The Attack.

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