In the President’s Gardens, Refusing to Forget Iraqi History

All the events described in this novel were either directly experienced by the author or related to him by others. In 23 years of exile, every single piece of work he has produced has been about Iraq. The idyllic village where they grew up is a remote place in Northern Iraq where life continues almost magically—the author fills village life with legends and stories from the past. The little community has secrets the narrator reveals gradually, not just to the readers, but also to the characters, leaving scars on their souls. The President’s Gardens was longlisted for the IPAF in 2013 and won the PEN Translates award in 2016. Untold stories
The novel explores the untold stories of those Iraqi soldiers who were made prisoners   in the 80s,   during the Iraq-Iran war,   the last of whom were released in 2003. For this, he is killed. The perils of refusing to remember
A central theme to the novel is the tragedy of forgetting. It also offers an insight into military life: hazing rituals, torture, the UN’s attempts to document the degradations of some prisons, the submission soldiers had to learn from very early on, the friendships amongst comrades, and upsetting scenes of death.   Valentina Viene ( is a translator from Arabic into English and Italian and a literary scout focusing on contemporary Arabic literature. He is co-editor of Al-Wah, an Arab cultural magazine based in Spain, and he has also translated several Spanish classics to Arabic, including Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The novel is an attempt to write the testimonies of life under Saddam’s dictatorship into posterity in a way the history books can’t—lest we forget. That’s why he wrote The President’s Gardens, a novel published in Arabic in 2012 that will be available in English this April, thanks to Luke Leafgren’s seamless translation. After a period in Jordan, al-Ramli settled in Spain in 1995. While struggling to rid themselves of the ghosts of the past, they reflect on how the wars have taken away the best years of their lives and, what’s worse, they can’t move on. Two of them, Abdullah and Ibrahim, are forced to join the army during the Iran-Iraq war and the invasion of Kuwait. She marries a man who has a picture of the tyrant tattooed on his arm, who chooses Saddam as a name for their son. He finds meaning in secretly cataloguing the corpses so that, if someone were ever to go and look for them, they could be identified. By the end of the novel, this soil becomes ground for the deceptively luxurious presidential gardens, a symbol of Iraq’s flowering of carnage. It could be the Americans, or more likely Saddam’s henchmen, or even his opponents. Qisma, which in fact means destiny, hates her father’s acceptance of fate so much so that she changes her name and rebels against everything her father represents. When Abdullah and Ibrahim finally manage to return to Baiji, after the Kuwaiti invasion, they are so demoralized all they wish for is peace and safety. Soon she dies, and he finds himself doing a job he both hates and has to keep secret: He’s a gravedigger in the president’s gardens. Al-Ramli is adamant that Saddam Hussein is no hero, contrary to what some Iraqis currently believe, and that the country’s current situation in Iraq is part of Saddam’s legacy. But no one is exempt from his oppression: Qisma’s husband is tortured to death, and she is raped by none other than Saddam himself. Advertisements

Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrPinterestPocketLike this:Like Loading…‹ Report: Algerian Novelist Anouar Rahmani Summoned by Police for His Fictional Characters’ BehaviorCategories: International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), Iraq As she’s had no dialogue with her father, all she sees in him is a weak man who always accepted his fate, even the choice of a wife. Here, the author highlights how the banana boxes have come from abroad, as bananas are not native to Iraq. Abdullah had hoped to marry Sameeha, Tariq’s sister and a woman who loves him, but during his absence she is betrothed to a man she does not love. We are presented, in the very first page, with the arrival in the village of nine banana crates, each containing a severed head. On the other, the new generation has completely lost touch with reality and has gone so far as to idolize the dictator. There are moments when you need to close the book and allow yourself to process what you’re reading. He depicts the Iraqi soil as one with an ancient history, a place where, “People often found urns, bracelets, earrings, tablets, belts, swords, and armor made from brass, gold and silver” when they built their mud houses. He spends more time with the dead than with the living. Secrets in the president’s gardens
The President’s Gardens revolves around three men whose friendship lasts until their death. Luckily, to compensate, there are some absolutely delightful moments. In this scene, al-Ramli makes us question who the instigators are. He assures us they are all real. Muhsin Al-Ramli is a Professor at Saint Louis University, Madrid; he has published both novels and poetry. The macabre scene suggests we are entering a new cycle of violence but, at the same time, Ibrahim’s small act of cataloguing has allowed some families to find the bodies of their relatives and, with them, some form of closure. Ibrahim meanwhile moves to Baghdad to work and support his wife, who has cancer and needs treatment. Some of these are moments of love, as when Ibrahim visits his wife in hospital wearing his wedding suit, and they forgive each other for their shortcomings. This week, around the world, readings will commemorate the Mutanabbi Street bombing of 2007. Or there are funny moments as, in the three friends’ youth, when they hide in the forest and pull their pants down to see who is the most “equipped.”
The reader senses the characters’ indissoluble relationship with the earth is a reflection of the author’s own ties to his homeland. Al-Ramli attributes the current idealization of Saddam to a destructive forgetfulness. After Ibrahim comes back from the war in Kuwait, adolescent Qisma, his daughter, looks at him with contempt. Two of his novel,s Scattered Clouds and Dates on my Fingers, have been translated into English. At an event organized by Banipal magazine in London this January, al-Ramli said he would continue writing about his homeland as long as it was riven by conflict. Al-Ramli fled Iraq as soon as he could, although he first had to complete his military service, or else he risked imprisonment. Ibrahim finds a purpose in life, in secretly taking people to consult his catalogues of the dead in his Baghdad flat. The novel   chronicles   the Saddam Hussein years,   and it   has moments when the reader needs to close the book and process. Some are poignant images, as when Abdullah returns to his village after years away and his blind adoptive mother touches his beard, asking if it has become white. But it also has moments of great delight:
By Valentina Viene
In 1990, Iraqi author Muhsin al-Ramli got a personal taste of Saddam Hussein’s iron grip: His brother, Hassan Mutlak, a celebrated poet, was hanged for attempting a coup d’état. One of them is Ibrahim’s. Ibrahim has information he could be killed for, and, as a consequence, he becomes increasingly withdrawn. The President’s Gardens is reminiscent of One Hundred Years of Solitude   in its effort to commit to memory the history of a country and, like Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece, it is an intensely political book. It is to this timeless, nostalgic place that Abdullah and Ibrahim dream of returning after the war, but things don’t go according to plan. She has lived in and around the MENA region for several years. This episode coincides with the American invasion of Iraq. The third, Tariq, is relieved of military service because of his studies and follows in his father’s footsteps as a religious leader. On the one hand, the older generation hates Saddam, as they barely manage to survive their tragic experiences. A graduate of the Orientale, Naples, she has translated a number of Arab authors and her articles have appeared in Italian academic journals and blogs. Muhsin al-Ramli’s acclaimed novel The President’s Gardens is also a refusal to forget.