By now, war is looming and thanks to the excess of soothsayers, the characters know exactly how things will unfold. The narratorʹs boyfriend accurately predicts: "War is not a battle between two sides with a winner and a loser. War turns life upside down and scatters everything from its place[.]" Even before the 2003 invasion, the neighbourhood’s Uncle Shawkat attaches a piece of cardboard to the front of a building. It reads, "Neighbourhood for sale or rent."

The war begins, as all the characters knew it would and the U.S. marines "came for our future and smashed its windows." Soon after, "we heard the sound of the first improvised explosive device exploding against an American armoured car. The battle of the IEDs had begun.

The facts of war are related with detachment, as though the narrator is reporting on distant history. This is also when we learn about the origin of The Baghdad Clock. Itʹs when war starts that Nadia, the narrator and their friend Baydaa start collecting the neighbourhood’s stories. By now: "There is no longer a neighbourhood in our neighbourhood. Our neighbourhood has moved into the big blue notebook[.]"

Yet itʹs not only the past in this notebook. Everything, it seems, has already been written. The last section is "The Future", when the narrator will rediscover Nadia on social media. She also describes her own future, including her marriage and move to Dubai.

Despite the lack of emotional involvement or political insight, "The Baghdad Clock" does have a breathless charm, reminiscent of bestsellers by Ahlem Mostaghanemi. Thereʹs also something sadly engaging in the bookʹs overarching wish-fulfillment narrative: an author travelling back in time to tell a younger self about the tragedies about to befall Iraq.

Marcia Lynx Qualey

© 2018

More on this topic