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
Absentby Betool Khedairi
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.
–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
- Random House Publishing Group
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Meet the Author
BETOOL KHEDAIRI was born in Baghdad in 1965 to an Iraqi father and a Scottish mother. She received a B.A. in French literature from the University of Mustansiriya and then traveled between Iraq, Jordan and the United Kingdom. She worked in the food industry while writing her first novel, A Sky So Close, published in Arabic in 1999 and now translated into English, Italian, French and Dutch. She currently lives in Amman, Jordan.
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