Thirsty River

by Al Galidi, Rodaan

A family’s destiny is intimately tied to the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein in this novel, the first about the U.S. war to be written by an Iraqi. The story follows four generations of the Bird family, who live on the banks of the Thirsty River in southern Iraq. The birth of each of the Bird children coincides with regime change in Baghdad, but the family is safely removed from the seat of power until the day Saddam Hussein’s officials seize a plot of land where their sheep graze. Protest causes all the adult men in the family to disappear, and the matriarch of the family, Simahen, spends her days outside the Party office in the hope of finding her husband and sons. The grandchildren are also eventually drawn into peril by events both humorous and horrifying: Joesr is employed to paint murals of Saddam, a job in which one errant brush stroke could lead to death—and his artistic talents turn to bomb-making after the fall of Saddam; meanwhile, young Djazil is unaccounted for until he is recognized by his family in one of the infamous photos from Abu Ghraib.