Sky So Close, A

by Khedairi, Betool

A young woman comes of age in modern Iraq in this lyrical debut. The unnamed narrator recalls her early childhood on a farm in the small village of Zafraniya, outside of Baghdad. It is a mostly peaceful time in the country: the narrator attends the School of Music and Ballet in the mornings and her afternoons are spent playing among apricot trees. From the age of six, however, the conflicting values of East and West begin to disrupt her idyllic life. Her father, who works devising food flavorings and colors, is Iraqi; her mother is English and is not managing to adapt to the heat, the customs or her isolation. They argue constantly, and the narrator is aware that many see her as “the foreign woman’s daughter.” She is much closer to her father, who interests her in his work as she grows into adolescence. The family moves to Baghdad and the war with Iran begins soon after. Viewed mostly through the increasing changes in daily life rationing, travel restrictions and the dance school’s closing the effects of war are juxtaposed against the girl’s exposure to the beleaguered artistic community in Baghdad and her first love affair. The third section of the book shifts to England, where she travels with her ailing mother just as the Gulf War erupts. Khedairi writes with a certain distance and passivity that can be frustrating, but lovers of literary fiction will be pulled in by the poetic descriptions. Despite the aloofness of the narration, this quietly compelling story rings true.