English translation of Muhsin Al-Ramli’s novel exposes the horrors of war

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By Ben East

It begins with a beheading. Then another, and another, until nine severed heads are found in a sleepy Iraqi village. It’s a shockingly vivid introduction to the ­violent, ­chaotic world of Muhsin Al-Ramli’s The President’s ­Garden.

Asking where the Iraqi novelist got his inspiration seems an innocent enough question. Nothing prepares you for the answer.

“On the third day of Ramadan in 2006, I received news of the slaughter of nine of my relatives who were fasting,” Al-Ramli says. “My village found their heads in banana crates, along with their ID cards, on the side of the main road near my ­family’s house.

“That news shocked and terrified me. I wept. I had childhood memories of playing with the owners of these heads.”
Understandably, Al-Ramli had no idea what to do, other than to take refuge in something he knew: writing. Six years later, The President’s Gardens was published in Arabic, framing the stories of friends Abdullah, Tariq and Ibrahim around both their personal tragedy and the tragedy of Iraq in the years ­between the war with Iran and the aftermath of the American invasion.

It was longlisted for the 2013 International Prize for ­Arabic Fiction, and this week an ­English translation, by Luke Leafgren, is finally published. It is a stunning achievement. Read more

Source: The National

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