My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Basra, Iraq, 1991
The bombs start falling.
Eleven-year-old Ali and his brother Shirzad, are busy playing Atari when their mother orders them to the safe room. They race each other to the farthest reaches of the schoolhouse, a target where Saddam has placed weapons, where their young sister and brother wait.
The Americans are coming.
This is Ali’s second war, the first lasted eight years, (with Iran) ending when he was nine, his sister only six; she doesn’t remember what war is like.
Saddam Hussein is the president of Iraq, George Bush, the president of the United States. After Saddam orders the invasion of Kuwait, a neighboring country south of Ali’s home in Basra, his family scrambles to lock down and wait for the bombs to pass.
While the bombs fall, Ali plays Atari in his imagination. The bombs hit close enough his teeth vibrate, and he and his siblings sing the Muppet Show theme, drowning them out, and his family lives through their first night of the war.
Saddam’s people are everywhere, even the obnoxious twins Ali and his brother play “football” with, are sons of one of Saddam’s top men, anything he and his brother say or do will be reported. Propaganda rules the airwaves. People disappear.
Meanwhile, everything about America fascinates Ali. He “wishes he’d been born in a place where people are happy and carefree. Where families aren’t hiding, hoping to live through the night, for no other reason than their leader is a madman.”
Ali and his family stick with you, how they survive and deal with the unimaginable, how their regular lives are changed and how they cope as a family even while their father, a dentist for the regime disappears, and Ali’s older brother becomes the boss of him. Based on a true story. There are playful moments, and terrorizing fear, and I cannot recommend this book highly enough, a gripping and thoroughly immersive story.
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