When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson

‘In a perfect world, we could wait until the apricots bloom.  Alas, the world is not perfect.’

Set in Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein, this novel is told through the eyes of three quite different women.  Ally, wife of an Australian diplomat (a ‘dependent spouse’), has accompanied her husband on posting to Baghdad.  Ally has her own reasons for wanting to be in Baghdad.

Huda, a secretary at the Australian Embassy in Baghdad, is ordered by the mukhabarat to befriend Ally.  Huda does not want to be an informant for the secret police but must think of her family.  Her husband is bitter and unemployed, and her teenaged son is of an age where he could be forced to join the militia.

Rania, a childhood friend of Huda’s, grew up in a life of privilege as the daughter of a sheikh.  Both privilege and money are long gone, and Rania is an artist, struggling to look after her teenaged daughter.

Three different women brought together by circumstance.  Ally is trying to find information about people from the past, an activity which is viewed with suspicion and is highly dangerous.  Huda will do almost anything to protect her son and calls on Rania for help.

‘Didn’t anyone ever teach you?  Two can keep a secret only when one of them is dead.’

This novel was inspired by Ms Wilkinson’s own experiences in Iraq, and makes it clear how difficult and challenging life could be for many (and particularly women) in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  Difficult choices need to be made by each of the women to protect their family members and to survive.  And who can they trust?

Each woman’s story is difficult and heartbreaking in its own way.  As I read, I wondered what choices I might make in their situations.  A thought-provoking debut novel.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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