Monday, July 11, 2011
The Sirens of Baghdad by Yasmin Khadra
I personally believe that some novelists who use their craft as an outlet for their views on social and political issues are better off being strictly journalists. Oftentimes a novel centered on a political issue—as opposed to a storyline—lacks characterization and substance. While the same can be said for author Yasmin Khadra and The Sirens of Baghdad, this is nonetheless an effective and timely novel that gives readers an inside look into a society in which human beings become collateral damage in the crossfire of war.
The Sirens of Baghdad takes place during the Second Gulf War and centers on an unnamed male protagonist who inhabits a Bedouin village in Iraq. He has returned to his home village after a US bombing closed off access to the university he was attending. When his village is attacked by thrill-killing GIs, the man vows to avenge his family, and he travels to Baghdad to join forces with a terrorist group.
From then on, the novel alternates somewhat clumsily between being a psychological study and a political thriller. There are no characters; rather, there are thinly-drawn archetypes whose dialogue reveals Khadra’s political stance rather than the characters’ individual views. Khadra could have simply channeled this content into political essays rather than through these fictional cardboard cutouts.
Khadra is consistent, however, with providing striking visuals reminiscent of the cinematography of an art film, and oftentimes as I was reading, I believed this novel would translate well onto the screen. Descriptions of landscapes and atmosphere provide more depth and substance than anything else the novel has to offer, and ultimately that is what remains in the readers’ mind longer after the novel is closed. In fact, it’s the imagery that gives a haunting quality to the novel’s end.
Ultimately, The Sirens of Baghdad succeeds where it counts. It gives an enlightening look into the psychology of terrorism and the prejudice and xenophobia that leads to it. Its portrayal of terrorists is that they are not mere villains, but human beings with missions they consider noble and beneficial to their own countries. In my opinion, understanding how terrorism is borne is the only way to stop it; therefore this is an important book that could be a real eye-opener to the mainstream reader.