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Synopses & Reviews
Dalal is a young woman living in a crowded Baghdad apartment with the childless aunt and uncle who raised her. In the same building, Umm Mazin, a fortune-teller, offers her customers cures for their physical and romantic ailments, Saad the hairdresser attends to a dwindling number of female customers, and Ilham, a nurse, escapes the stark realities of her hospital job in dreams of her long-lost French mother. Despite the damaging effects of bombings and international sanctions on their world, all the residents try to maintain normal lives.
Hoping to bring in much-needed cash by selling honey, Dalals uncle becomes a beekeeper, enlisting Dalals help in the care of these temperamental creatures. Meanwhile, Dalal falls in love for the first time-against a background of surprise arrests, personal betrayals, and a crumbling social fabric that turns neighbors into informants.
Tightly crafted and full of vivid, unforgettable characters, Absent is a haunting portrait of life under restrictions, the fragile emotional ties among family and friends, and the resilience of the human spirit.
"'Iraqi-Scot novelist Khedairi (A Sky So Close) tells the story of Dalal, a young girl growing up in a crowded Baghdad apartment complex during the sanctions imposed on Iraq following the Gulf War. The deck is certainly stacked against Dalal: orphaned as a baby, she is raised by her self-absorbed maternal aunt and an uncle, and lives under a cloud of collective political anxiety. Dalal herself, as she reaches her 20s, has a facial paralysis, works several jobs by necessity and attends classes. A cast of kooky neighbors helps her find her way, but while her environment seems safe, it may harbor a menace — a Baath government informant. Time is nebulous in the book, with Dalal floating back and fourth between childhood and adolescence in a way that is by turns gorgeously dreamy and jarring. As the title suggests, Dalal, who narrates, is largely absent from the larger forces at work, and while her observations are sometimes poignant, she rarely takes action or even makes a decision, simply allowing things to happen to her. But Khedairi does paint a lucid and insightful picture of Iraq in the late 1990s. (July)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Absent tells the story of Dalal, a young Iraqi woman living with the childless aunt and uncle who raised her. Dalal and her neighbors try to maintain normal lives, despite the crippling effect of bombings andinternational sanctions resulting from the first Gulf War. By turns affectionate, wry, and darkly comic, Absent paints a moving portrait of people struggling to get by in impossible circumstances. Upstairs, the fortune-teller Umm Mazin offers her customers cures for their physical and romantic ailments; below, Saad the hairdresser attends to a dwindling number of female customers; and on the second floor, the nurse Ilham dreams of her long-lost French mother to escape the grim realities she sees in the children's ward at the hospital. Hoping to bring in much-needed cash by selling honey, Dalal's uncle turns to beekeeping, and instructs his niece in the care and feeding of these temperamental creatures.Against a background of surprise arrests, personal With memories of happier times during the "Days of Plenty" of her childhood, Dalal falls in love for the first time against a background of surprise arrests, personal betrayals, and a crumbling social fabric that turns neighbors into informants. Tightly crafted and skillfully told, Absent is a haunting portrait of life under sanctions, the fragile emotional ties between individuals, and, ultimately, the resilience of the human spirit.
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