by Khedairi, Betool
“Absent” is an affectionate, wry, funny portrait – sometimes darkly so – of the inhabitants of an apartment block in central Baghdad, juxtaposing the days of plenty that Iraq experienced in the 1970s and the tragic state of the country during the period of wars and sanctions. Most of the protagonists are female, highlighting the absence of men in their society as a result of the exceptional conditions it suffers. As sanctions and political unrest intensify, each character must look to their own resources. They barter, bee keep, tell fortunes, collect buttons, and talk. All the characters stumble through in a Dadaesque collage, recounted through an eclectic mix of realistic narrative and surreal hallucinations, while the infrastructure and consequently the social fabric of the community crumble. Transcending its underlying layer of betrayal and mistrust, this is a novel about people’s quirks, their enduring emotions, and about survival.