The Orange Trees of Baghdad, by Leilah Nadir

The Orange Trees of Baghdad, by Leilah Nadir (Originally published 2007; Reprint edition Read Leaf, March 1, 2014)

Leilah Nadir, a Canadian of mixed English/Iraqi birth, wanted, like most people do at certain times in their lives, to trace her origins, discover her culture and find out what makes her what she is. The catch is that her Iraqi family members, the sources for her memoirs, are difficult to contact in Iraq since the communication infrastructure has been almost totally destroyed. Either than or they become refugees or die in the war.

At the time of publication (2007), Nadir had never set foot in Iraq. However, every tidbit of information she gets adds to a picture of a once vibrant, cultured and open society, and of a family of exceptional achievement. The book won the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature in July 2008, and the reader should expect thought-provoking and occasionally distressing political and social comment. It is said that we suffer our memories, and the search and the suffering is what Nadir records with moving, evocative and delicate prose. The ending is particularly poignant:

“All I can do is imagine…I go back downstairs and out onto the terrace facing the neglected garden, shrivelled and wild. There I am greeted by the ghosts of my grandparents, my great-aunt, my great-uncles, all saying at once, ‘Welcome, welcome. You’ve come to visit us. Sit down, sit down, we’ll drink tea. We knew you’d come one day. We knew you’d be back.’”

The official website of the book, which also contains interviews and other writing by Nadir, is here. [Rtrvd. 2016-03-05]


By Sept. 2014, Nadir had still not made it back to Iraq. In an interview with Beth Jellicoe [retrvd. 2016-03-05] she answers the questions; What’s your relationship to Iraq now? How do you feel about your status since writing the book?

“I was afraid I wasn’t Iraqi before I wrote the book, because I haven’t lived there. And even though I know the culture, I don’t know the language – I felt I wasn’t allowed to be this. I felt it very strongly. But since writing the book, and being received by Iraqis, I’ve realised I am Iraqi, and they’ve embraced me as one. And I feel like that part of me has melded together. I still haven’t been, but I can stand up and say: ‘Yes, I’m Iraqi.’ And it’s been wonderful when Iraqis have read the book, and they’ve said ‘I feel like you’ve captured Iraq. You’ve captured what it was like before.’ How is that possible, when I haven’t been? But somehow, I have absorbed it, the stories and the people and the culture. And people are essentially a country. It’s the people that make the place. All my family had to sell their house. They are all out of Iraq now.”

About M. Bijman

Avid reader, longtime writer of book reviews and literary analyses. Interested in literature, creativity and cognition, language and linguistics, musicology, and technology. Occasionally writes poems and bits of music.

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