Absent

Absent

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by Betool Khedairi
     
 

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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… See more details below

Overview

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, Dalal’s uncle becomes a beekeeper, enlisting Dalal’s 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.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
An intimate picture of life in a Baghdad apartment building during the perilous 1990s (following the Gulf War) is gradually assembled in this colorful novel, originally published by a university press in 2004. Iraqi-Scottish author (A Sky So Close, 2001) and now Jordanian resident Khedairi presents her story as the arduous "education" of its narrator Dalal, a young woman raised by her aunt and uncle after her parents are killed by an exploding landmine. It's a compact saga of struggling to survive despite ongoing sectarian enmity and violence and a ruinous economic blockade. Attention focuses first on Dalal's childless Aunt Umm, a frequently choleric seamstress, and her Uncle Abu Ghayeb. The latter is a memorable comic character: a failed artist who surrounds himself with treasured oil paintings and reels from one impractical moneymaking scheme to another, eventually choosing to prosper as a beekeeper. Neighboring characters, all of whom lament the long-ago "Days of Plenty," include sagacious fortune teller Umm Mazin (who "reads" dregs in coffee cups, and counsels distraught women who have lost their husbands' love); gentle diabetic Uncle Sami, going blind because of the difficulty of procuring insulin; and their building's secretive new owner Saad, who supervises Dalal's pursuit of formal education, and in effect facilitates the loss of her innocence. Images of looming threats (notably, the sight of children playing with "leftover shrapnel" in the street) aside, the novel is primarily pictorial and virtually devoid of tension or plot until its closing pages, in which the presence of an informer in the building occasions a violent flurry of transformative events. Khedairi makes brilliantmetaphoric use of a "war" among Uncle Abu's bees, begun because "I must have distributed the food unequally amongst the different colonies."Initially sluggish, but not without rewards. Agent: Toby Eady/Toby Eady Associates
From the Publisher
Absent opens a door to a view of Iraqi life we have seldom seen. With a compassionate eye Khedairi explores a community, damaged by wars and sanctions, struggling for survival.”
–Elizabeth Cox, author of The Slow Moon

“A fascinating book and a great pleasure to read: Betool Khedairi is a talented new voice in fiction.”
–Alaa Al Aswany, author of The Yacoubian Building

“Absent is an important book in the way that The Grapes of Wrath and The Kite Runner are important books. Betool Khedairi performs the miraculous feat of transforming Iraq from an abstraction into a world populated by real people devastated by the intrusions of an empire on the other side of the globe.”
–Sarah Bird, author of The Flamenco Academy

“A strong new voice in Iraqi literature.”
–Radio Free Europe

“Brilliant, funny and disturbing, Absent portrays an unforgettable struggle for dignity in a world under siege.”
–Teresa Carpenter, author of The Miss Stone Affair

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781588366368
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/10/2007
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
766,247
File size:
0 MB

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