Review of Banipal 37: Excerpt of Lutfiya al-Dulaimi’s /The Book of the Girls/

As one flips through the latest Banipal (37: Iraqi Authors), the first fiction to appear is an excerpt from Lutfiya al-Dulaimi’s The Book of the Girls. The magazine’s foreword notes that: “Lutfiya al-Dulaimi, with her new novel The Book of the Girls—which will surely be translated into many languages—rivets the reader’s attention….”

Although it receives the strongest plug in the foreword, I didn’t think al-Dulaimi’s was the strongest excerpt. Yes, it’s hard to judge a novel from two “episodes” (chapters) that come from the middle of the action. But such is what we have before us.

The tone of the novel in many ways echoes what you might expect from a novel about adult women that’s titled “The Book of the Girls.” Episode 26 shows adult female friends, sharing snappy banter about men (all bastards), life (unpredictable), work, and their futures. Only, these “girls” are Iraqi refugees.

At times, The Book of the Girls has that wonderfully uncomfortable humor I find characteristic of Iraqi fiction. One of our protagonists has been raped and left for dead; before that, she heard her brother and mother killed in the next room. As she lies naked in her own blood, flickering in and out of consciousness, the the extremists who attacked her and her family discuss the killing. After, they scrub around for some food to break their Ramadan fast. One of the men asks:

“Is their food halal?”
“Course it’s halal, they’re Muslim atheists, don’t make life difficult for us.”

The writing style, often loose and breathless a la books like How Stella Got Her Groove Back, at times makes an odd match to the subject matter. But I can certainly see why Banipal expects to see this book in many languages.