Imprint: One World
Like most everyone in the Western World, of a certain age, I clearly remember the days of the early 90s watching the endless news updates about the raging conflict that was Desert Storm, the first Gulf War. And I confess, though I was vaguely aware of the political machinations of both sides I was no expert nor had only a very sketchy notion of what it meant for Iraq. Of course, I had read or heard all the information about Hussein’s terrible despotic control and rumours of the atrocities and torture that were common. Yet I had, on the other side of the world, no real knowledge.
Ali Fadhil was eleven years when the war began. He and his family had already survived one war – that between Iraq and Iran – and since that time their life had moved on with ease. A large comfortable home, servants, the trappings of comfort and for Ali, his prized Superman comic collection, video games and an obsession with American TV and film. In fact, his command of English was exceptional due to his fervent interest in all things American.
Suddenly Ali and his family are plunged into a nightmare of bombings, food and water scarcity, the extreme anxiety for their safety and a city crashing down around them all. Ali’s recount of that time is told in such a way that young readers can fully appreciate the terror such an experience might hold without being overly graphic and with touches of humour as, like any kids, there are sibling squabbles even in the midst of dark times.
The narrative also clearly demonstrates the distaste and despair so many ordinary Iraqis felt at the hands of such an out-of-control ruler whose prime objective was his own self-preservation and self-aggrandizement with no thought or concern for his country or its peoples.
Fortuitously, Ali’s family survived the first and indeed the second Gulf War intact, something not many Iraqis would. Their closeness as a family, their respect for each other and the strength of the parents is a testament and key to this.
Ali’s fluency with English notwithstanding such learned phrases as ‘Book ‘em, Danno’ and ‘Pity the fool!’ eventually lead him not only to the important post of translator at Hussein’s trial but became a passport to his beloved America in 2008, where he was joined by his siblings a year later.
This is an important book both for younger and older readers, particularly in these uncertain times where ‘hate’ seems to be a universal currency particularly among those who should be leading the way to a global peace.
I highly recommend it for discerning readers from around ten years upwards.