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What a new novel about three friends growing up in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq can tell us about human nature

Iraqi author Muhsin Al-Ramli’s brother was executed for planning a coup against Saddam. Yet the narrative here is driven neither by anger nor partisan hate

The President’s Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli, translated by Luke Leafgren (MacLehose Press, £12.99)

It is typical of the Rabelaisian impudence of this book that the reader does not encounter the title’s subject—the President’s gardens—until towards the end. This extraordinary portrait of three friends growing up in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq uses a range of storytelling traditions, infusing tragedy with comedy, the epic with the intimate, and the real with the surreal. From its arresting start—“In a land without bananas, the village awoke to nine banana crates, each containing the severed head of one…

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