Like any reasonable person, Leilah Nadir is outraged by the American invasion of Iraq–and by the dismal statistics that continue to accumulate.
"It's just so hard to understand," says the Vancouver-based author and journalist, calling from her home. "All I can see that they currently have got out of it is that they've taken away a threat that they perceived in the Middle East, but they've created another terrible situation. They've lost in the eyes of the world, and the only beneficiaries are Iran and Syria, which are supposedly their archenemies. So either they wanted that on some level, or they just made a complete mess of the situation because they didn't listen to the experts in the region and they were fuelled by ideology rather than reality.
"But neither answer makes much sense, which makes the whole situation even more tragic," she continues. "It seems utterly futile that you destroy a country–and in essence they're destroying the region, which was already on a very difficult course."
With nearly a million Iraqi dead, 50 percent unemployment, daily car bombings, and growing sectarian strife, there is no answer for Nadir's despair. No answer, either, in The Orange Trees of Baghdad (Key Porter, $32.95), the Canadian-born author's gripping and painful response to the crisis.
Both a family history and an acute analysis of what has happened to Iraq since the first Gulf War in 1991, The Orange Trees of Baghdad is unique in that it is not firsthand reportage. Instead, it is compiled from interviews with family members taped in London and Beirut and on an airliner high above the Atlantic, from letters and e-mails, and from telephone conversations. But this remove is what gives Nadir's book its terrible poignancy: it was written without its author ever having seen the city that her father and his ancestors called home. Yearning and exile pervade its pages as surely as do horror and pity, and the sad truth is that even if conditions do improve to the point that Nadir can safely visit the city of her dreams, she'll never know what it truly was like before the bombing started, before the doctors and teachers fled, before the war.
In fact, Nadir has recently been given the bittersweet news that her last remaining relatives in Iraq have joined the swelling ranks of refugees. "Just this week, just when I'd seen the book and held it in my hand, they've fled the country," she says. "Yesterday they arrived in Damascus. Basically, they've abandoned the four houses that they had inherited, one being our family home that they were looking after. And because they had to leave so quickly, they weren't able to bring anything out of the house, any of the memorabilia of my grandfather and my family. I feel that's pretty definitive, and I can't really picture how we're ever going to be able to go back and claim those things, or even see them. I'm pleased that my family has made it to Syria, but for everything else it's over."
Nonetheless, Iraq will live on in Nadir's fantasies, in her book, and in a novel about the desert country's colonial past that she's beginning to research. And her family will continue, too: the other news in the 36-year-old author's life is that she's pregnant.
"I feel that I went so far into the past that now I need to carry the future," she says. "It's kind of a strange paradox, but it's sure to keep me a little bit busy for a while."