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An extraordinary chronicle of war and an occult story of love between a father and his son from one of Iraq’s most celebrated contemporary writers
“Whenever he told lies, the birds would fly away. It had been that way since he was a child. Whenever he told a lie, something strange would happen.”
So begins Bachtyar Ali’s The Last Pomegranate, a phantasmagoric warren of fact, fabrication, and mystical allegory, set in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s rule and Iraq’s Kurdish conflict.
Muzafar-i Subhdam, a peshmerga fighter, has spent the last twenty-one years imprisoned in a desert yearning for his son, Saryas, who was only a few days old when Muzafar was captured. Upon his release, Muzafar begins a frantic search, only to learn that Saryas was one of three identical boys who became enmeshed in each other’s lives as war mutilated the region.
An inlet to the recesses of a terrifying historical moment, and a philosophical journey of formidable depths, The Last Pomegranate interrogates the origins and reverberations of atrocity. It also probes, with a graceful intelligence, unforgettable acts of mercy.
About the Author
Bachtyar Ali is one of the most prominent contemporary authors and poets from Iraqi Kurdistan. He has written over 40 books of fiction, poetry, and criticism, including 12 novels, and has been widely translated, a renown very few authors writing in the Kurdish language enjoy. In 2017, he was awarded the Nelly Sachs Prize, joining past recipients such as Milan Kundera, Margaret Atwood and Javier Marías. He is the first author writing in a non-European language to do so. In 2009, Ali received the first HARDI Literature Prize, part of the largest cultural festival in the Kurdish part of Iraq. In 2014, he was also awarded the newly established Sherko Bekas Literature Prize.
Kareem Abdulrahman is a translator who has also worked as a Kurdish media and political analyst for the BBC. His translation of Bakhtiyar Ali's I Stared at the Night of the City was the first Kurdish novel to be translated into English. He lives in London.
"A tour de force . . . The urban scenes contribute to the author’s in-the-round portrait of his homeland, showing us more than bunkers and bomb craters, suggesting fertility and possibility . . . Isn’t it a fine novel that sustains such counterpoint? Alive with the tension between humanity and hatred?" —John Domini, Brooklyn Rail
“Superbly realized novel of life, death, and what lies between . . . Blending magical realism with dark fables worthy of Kafka, Kurdish novelist Ali spins episodes that require the willing suspension of disbelief while richly rewarding that surrender . . . Altogether extraordinary: a masterwork of modern Middle Eastern literature deserving the widest possible audience.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Kaleidoscopic and mesmerizing . . . Ali’s novel is a visionary wonder that plunges into the dreamscape of a people’s fraught memory. For readers, this is unforgettable.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A lot of contemporary American fiction is stuck in this . . . false dichotomy between “auto-fiction” and “social realism” and it was really nice to read Ali who comes in like a graceful bull in a china shop, telling a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching story." — William Lennon, publisher, Cleveland Review of Books
“Bachtyar Ali’s skillful, seamless movement between history and mythologies is unique in its political engagement and cultural depths. A major writer of our time.” — Rawi Hage, author of Stray Dogs
"After spending his years in prison trying to forget — “all my memories turned to sand” —Muzafar is released from his desert confinement and immediately tries to locate his son. It is this persistent search for truth that lies at the heart of The Last Pomegranate Tree . . . Ali shows his readers that while truth at first seems a monolith, a different perspective can reveal a new aspect, a new verity, equally as valid as the first."— Andrea Blatz, Asymptote Journal
Another superb novel from Bachtyar Ali, mixing reality, and a very unpleasant reality at that, with myth and fantasy, while telling a complex and first-class story which illuminates the problems that the Iraqi Kurds have lived through. There is no doubt that Bachtyar Ali should be better known in the West. — The Modern Novel
"The story isn’t told in a linear fashion–it loops around, backward and forward in time, in circles or a spiral. Thoughts, musings, and descriptions are repeated, in poetic language that can sometimes evoke a bedtime story." — New York Kurdish Cultural Center
"The Last Pomegranate Tree, a modern Kurdish fable, is an immersive, entertaining tale that fuses the charm of ancient legend with the harsh reality of contemporary history. It honours a generation lost or, worse, hardened to death and disaster by years of hostility—both coming from outside the troubled region and arising from within."—Joseph Schreiber, Rough Ghosts
"A deftly scripted chronicle of war and a memorable story of love between a father and his son from one of Iraq's most celebrated contemporary writers . . . An eloquent and deftly crafted work of literature that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book has been finished." — James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review
"The Last Pomegranate Tree is a novel filled with wonderful characters, scenes and stories. It is not afraid to venture into the surreal or mystical, yet, in doing so, it paints an often heart-breakingly realistic picture of Kurdish Iraq." — Grant Rintoul, First Reading
"Dazzlingly inventive, The Last Pomegranate Tree has Ali engaging with his common themes and, at the same time, employing his trademark style — gritty realism combined with myth, allegory and fantastical flourishes." — Malcolm Forbes, The National "With charm and grace, with anger and imagination, Ali . . . shows what decades of violence have done to Kurdistan—the depredations of Saddam, the corruption of politicians, the brutalization of the population. The book is unflinching: violence and cruelty really are everywhere. But life also contains the sublime beauty of the last pomegranate tree. It’s not magical. It’s not outside this world. It’s just hard to find through the chaos."— Brian O'Neill, Necessary Fiction
“This is the kind of novel that rewards several readings. It doesn’t lack accessibility, and it’s not purposely “difficult,” but it’s layered with potential connections not immediately obvious, and its mythological foundations are ripe for deeper digs. I highly recommend it.”— Spinozablue
"Kareem Abdulrahman’s stunning English translation of the Kurdish-language novel The Last Pomegranate Tree by Bachtyar Ali . . . hovers on the divide between realism and fable . . . Hints of the divine are what give life to the story . . . Everything, in the end, is both human and fantastic."— Marina Manoukian, Vagabond City
"I've never read anything like it . . . The story is suffused with all kinds of magical, strange things but also deeply informed by the history of Iraq and of the Kurds . . . histories which keep spiking up through the fantastical story in quietly devastating ways." — John Darnielle, singer of The Mountain Goats
“After spending 21 years in a prison in the desert, Muzafar-i Subhdam is suddenly released into a lavish mansion. He wants to find his son Saryas more than anything, but Muzafar struggles to reconcile himself with the world outside his desert prison. This sometimes mystical quest and our slightly overwhelmed protagonist make for a lovely, occasionally heart-wrenching read.” — Shelbi Polk, Shondaland
“Bachtyar Ali is one of those really significant authors you’ve probably never heard of . . . [The Last Pomegranate Tree] has a fable-like quality . . . It is poetic and devastating.” – Sarah L'Estrange, Australian Broadcasting Corporation's "The Book Show"