What would you do if the secret police demanded you spy on a friend in order to protect your family? Three women confront the complexities of trust, friendship and motherhood under the rule of a dictator in this sensational debut.
At night, in Huda’s fragrant garden, a breeze sweeps in from the desert encircling Baghdad, rustling the leaves of her apricot trees and carrying warning of visitors at her gate. Huda, a secretary at the Australian embassy, lives in fear of the mukhabarat—the secret police who watch and listen for any scrap of information that can be used against America and its allies. They have ordered her to befriend Ally Wilson, the deputy ambassador’s wife. Huda has no wish to be an informant, but fears for her teenaged son, who may be forced to join a deadly militia. Nor does she know that Ally has dangerous secrets of her own.
Huda’s former friend, Rania, an artist, enjoyed a privileged upbringing as the daughter of a sheikh. Now her family’s wealth is gone, and Rania too is battling to keep her child safe and a roof over their heads. As the women’s lives intersect, their hidden pasts spill into the present. Facing possible betrayal at every turn, all three must trust in a fragile, newfound loyalty, even as they discover how much they are willing to sacrifice to protect their families.
Gina Wilkinson’s evocative, suspenseful debut is told through the eyes of three very different women confronting the limits of friendship and forgiveness, and the strength of a mother’s love. Transporting readers to one of the world’s most legendary cities, with mouth-watering cuisine, incredible history, a surprising art scene and bustling book markets, When the Apricots Bloom swept me up with its rich imagery.
The novel is inspired by Gina’s own experiences in Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s rule. She spent more than a year in Baghdad, under tight surveillance, at a time when Iraq was virtually sealed off from the outside world. One of her closest Iraqi friends worked as a secret police informant, reporting on her every move. While fiction, this experience certainly inspired this novel.
Her author’s note at the end of the novel makes for fascinating reading, and she herself asks the question whether she has the right to tell the story of her Iraqi characters. I understand it’s not my place to decide, but Gina’s acknowledgement of marginalised authors, the questions she asks here, her own experience living in Baghdad, and the exquisite novel she has ultimately produced, certainly display great integrity.
This is my final review of the year, and honestly, I feel like I’m saving the best for last. When the Apricots Bloom is a wonderful read. I loved it.