Aug, 2022 - The Baghdad Clock - Shahad Al Rawi

BG 1 - Book Review - August 26th 2022

The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi


The Baghdad Clock, a story between real and imaginary, is written by Iraqi author Shahad Al Rawi with magic realism as her writing style. The book has been originally written in Arabic, published in 2016 and has been translated into English by Luke Leafgren for Oneworld publications in 2018.

As a war narrative enveloped in magic, love, friendship and hope; The Baghdad Clock adds
depth to the burgeoning genre of postcolonial Iraqi novels. A young unnamed narrator and
her best friend Nadia meet in their early childhood in an air-raid shelter during the first Gulf
war. As a decade passes by and history unfolds, the narrator narrates stories of their
friendship, the loves in their lives, besides weaving in other family members, friends and
community members as some of the characters. Shawkat uncle and the adorable dog
named Biryad being the ones that stood out the most. Others however didn’t endear us, the
frequent mention of cultural norms being one. Though the most distracting for me was the
repeated mention of the fortune teller's character.

Although a bold and innovative writing style, somewhere it loses its core and the story gets
spread apart. It seemed to me , the entire novel was a hodgepodge of the two worlds of the
real and imaginary, which made it difficult to keep track of what was going on. As a result
loses the reader’s interest, and becomes a rather bizarre read!

“The past rolls up the present and swallows that which is to come. It advances like a dust
storm, billowing up towards the sky and blocking the horizon. No one has the power to block
the storm of the past as it presses on to its end. No one has the power to push the future
forward and keep it from its place.” Is one example in the book of Shahad’s philosophical life
lessons. To me these were far more interesting than the actual plot itself. There was thought
from the members present that maybe, it was the translation that didn’t do the book justice!
It was a small group of us that met unexpectedly online, for the start of our new season of
reading and we all agreed, the book sadly wasn’t captivating!

Seema Chandnani