Nabeel's Song by Jo Tatchell

The celebrated Iraqi poet Nabeel Yasin and his family were front-row witnesses to the brutality, the indignities, and the humiliations of life under Saddam Hussein for more than three decades. In this lovingly written family biography, Jo Tatchell, a British freelance journalist and friend of Yasin, tells the story of Nabeel and his three brothers and two sisters, from the arranged marriage of their parents through the liberation of Baghdad in 2003 and the tragically sad years that followed. Their story serves as an intimate portrait of the Iraqi view about the ill-fated American invasion.

In exploring the unique character of its subjects, Nabeel’s Song relates not just the tale of one remarkable family but the human history of the Iraqi nation during the final third of the 20th Century and the opening years of the 21st.

Nabeel’s Song: A Family Story of Survival in Iraq by Jo Tatchell (2007) 370 pages ★★★★★ 

Nabeel Yasin, known to this day as “The Poet of Baghdad,” achieved acclaim as an artist early in life. The passion he invested in his poetry was matched by the fervor of his opposition to the regime of Saddam Hussein, but Nabeel was hardly alone in his discontent. Both his older brothers, one an Arab nationalist, the other a Communist, suffered even more at the hands of the regime, cycling in and out of Saddam’s prisons and emerging again and again emaciated and wounded both physically and emotionally. Their siblings, too, were victims of the dictatorship, with a younger brother drafted into the carnage of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s and a sister, a brilliant physician, forced to practice her profession in the country’s very worst hospitals because she refused to join Saddam’s Ba’athist Party.

Nabeel’s Song neatly unfolds in two parts. The first, concluding in 1980 with Nabeel and his family’s nerve-wracking flight from Iraq, covers the years of his childhood, youth, and early artistic success. Part 2 relates Nabeel’s peripatetic exile, moving from country to country in an often futile search for work as a journalist or in academia before he, his wife, and children finally settle in the U.K., where they still live today.

This book gave me a fuller and more understandable picture of life in Iraq under Saddam Hussein than years of newspaper and magazine stories had managed to do. Nabeel’s Song is well worth reading.

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