Title: The Gardener of Baghdad
Author: Ahmad Ardalan (Goodreads & website)
Source: I recieved a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review
Summary (via Goodreads): Adnan leads a weary existence as a bookshop owner in modern-day, war-torn Baghdad, where bombings, corruption and assault are everyday occurrences and the struggle to survive has suffocated the joy out of life for most. But when he begins to clean out his bookshop of forty years to leave his city in search of somewhere safer, he comes across the story of Ali, the Gardener of Baghdad, Adnan rediscovers through a memoir handwritten by the gardener decades ago that beauty, love and hope can still exist, even in the darkest corners of the world.
I liked this novel, and I liked the idea behind it, but I did not love it. Let me tell you first what I liked about it, and then I’ll tell you the issues I had with it.
I liked the story itself. It’s about a Baghdad book store owner, Adnan, who discovers a hidden memoir amongst his books one day. The memoir was written by Ali, who became the Gardener of Baghdad in the 1950s after having been orphaned at a young age and working on his family’s farm. Ali discovered his passion for gardening after reading an encyclopedia on plants that was given to him by his friend Mr. Radhi.
At an event celebrating one of his gardens, Ali meets Mary, the daughter of an English general who is stationed in Baghdad. Ali falls head over heels in love with Mary, and he spends many agonizing months to work up the courage to tell her how he feels. When he finally does, he is elated to know that she feels the same way. During that time period, however, love between an Iraqi man and an English woman was not smiled upon, so Ali & Mary are forced to leave Baghdad. Mary’s father is irate over Mary’s leaving and accuses Ali of kidnapping his daughter.
About a year or so later, while still living in exile, Mary gives birth to their daughter Laila. A few weeks after the birth, Mary becomes dangerously ill, and it is decided that she must go back to Baghdad to get the medical treatment she so desparately needs. However, Ali is advised to stay behind because he is still being accused of kidnapping Mary. Ali refuses to leave Mary’s side though, and it is before their journey back to Baghdad that Ali pens his memoir, and it is before their journey that the memoir ends.
Adnan, having become engrossed with Ali’s story, is desparate to know how it ends. Did Mary survive? Was Ali arrested for kidnapping Mary? Did they have a happily ever after? To find the answers, Adnan tracks down one of Ali’s relatives, and is finally told what really happened to the Gardener of Baghdad.
Like I said, I liked the story. It was very reminiscent to me of Chris Bohjalian‘s The Sandcastle Girls, another historical love story that features a wealthy American socialite and an Armenian engineer that is set during World War I. I love history and romance so any novel featuring both I am bound to enjoy.
However, I had some issues with the writing aspect of this story. For one, the characters seemed very two-dimensional to me. It was like the reader was “told” how a character was supposed to be instead of letting the character’s actions and/or words speak for them. Adnan and Ali were decent characters, but Ali fell in love with Mary just by looking at her, and she wasn’t given much of a voice. The side characters, such as Ali’s mentor Mr. Radhi, his cousin Mustafa, and various others were enjoyable, but I never really felt a connection with them.
I also had an issue with how the reader was not really allowed to “discover” the story. What I mean by this is that in order to answer any questions the reader may have had regarding certain historical events or foreign terms mentioned by the characters, the author fits the facts about these events and terms into the dialogue between the characters, which just makes the conversations between the characters seem unnatural. Therefore, it was difficult to connect with them.
Overall, I did like this novel. I liked the story and I liked the idea behind it. I just think it could have used a little bit more editing.
Goodreads rating: 3 out of 5 stars