The Watermelon Boys by Ruqaya Izzidien

The present is an arrogant time in which to live, always has been. Humans of the present look back at their people, land, and history, and whisper to themselves with glee, We are not them. But we were always them. We are our history; we are the crimes of our ancestors. And we wait, mouths agape, to hear tales of hope, as though good could triumph in such a world. But every century, every desperate land, every present, has its own moment of optimism, an instant in which its people are so sure, just like their fathers before them, that something better is possible. They tell themselves that their souls are better now, more compassionate, more powerful. This time it will be different. (p. 1)

A powerful novel about wartime from 1915-1920 in Europe but mostly in the Middle East (Baghdad). The main character is Ahmad, a Baghdadi who comes back from fighting with the Ottomans. He comes back to his family but struggles with the urge to fight for his country. The other perspective is from a Welsh boy drawn into the conflict as a soldier in the British army.

The conflict in this novel is between colonizers and the colonized, and those caught in between. I wouldn’t say this has a happy ending, these stories rarely are but this book certainly makes you feel both sides of the conflict and the immense pain, and hardship the families face while empires duel for land, and power.

It’s a great historical novel about the great injustice inflicted upon the Middle East by the Western powers under the auspices of doing good for the people. The effects of which are still being felt today in the region. It is well researched and exciting to read.

I always love reading translated fiction because we get to hear other perspectives than those who usually write the history books. Historical fiction has the ability to transport you right to key moments in history and learn not facts, but feel the emotions of the common people which always seems to escape the notice of those tasked with writing the history books.

My Rating: ★★★★★ My 2019 Reading Challenge: Book #11

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