Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review: The Sirens of Baghdad by Yasmin Khadra

On the jacket:

“Yasmina Khadra may well be the most powerful and serious writer in French since his Algerian compatriot Albert Camus.” —Philadelphia Inquirer 

The third novel in Yasmina Khadra’s bestselling trilogy about Islamic fundamentalism brings readers into Baghdad.

Forced to leave the University of Baghdad when the Americans invade Iraq, a young man from a small desert village returns home, where he witnesses three events that transform him. First, American soldiers at a checkpoint kill the sweet and beloved “village idiot.” Several days later, an American plane bombs a wedding on the outskirts of the village. And then one night, soldiers looking for terrorists come to the young man’s own home and humiliate his father in full view of the terrified family. Consumed by the desire to avenge this unspeakable act, the youth leaves the village for the city. 

Baghdad is going up in flames. The young man searches for a place to stay before being taken in by a radical group and convincing its members that he is willing to do anything to help their cause. After proving his mettle by participating in several attacks, he is sent to Beirut to undertake a super-secret mission that will take him to London. As the time to board the plane nears, he struggles to reconcile his mission with his moral principles.

A masterful and chilling look at violence and its effects on ordinary people, The Sirens of Baghdad probes situations few writers dare examine. Powerfully written like Khadra’s previous novels, it explores the depths of human nature and shows that, even in the most horrific circumstances, good can prevail.


This is not a leisure read, but a nameless character's version of the Muslim fundamentalist terrorism. Set in a small village Iraqui Bedouin, this character goes to Baghdad to study in university, but war breaks out and he is forced to got back to his village.

The book is an eye-opener of sorts. There are so many aspects of life in different countries we are unaware of and The Sirens of Baghdad reveals a lot.

We all *know* that the US army's invasion in a few countries habe caused major damage, but how much! The emotional damage is bigger than the physical and visible damage. The topic of the book is sensitive, and the author has not tried to influence the reader in any way. At no point will you feel inclined to belive that one side of the warriors were wrong. The story is neutral recount. 

There was this quote in The Sirens of Baghdad where the Imam concludes his lesson with, "It's not a question of washing your bodies, but your souls, young men. If you're rotten inside, neither rivers no oceans will suffice to make you clean." Deep, and can generate so many meanings.

All in all, The Sirens of Baghdad is a sensitive, heart-touching and well-written book.

My rating: ****/5

[This review is for Random House India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

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