Out of Mesopotamia is one of those rare books that I know I will read again and again. The prose is beautiful, the emotions raw and authentic in their confusion and contradiction. It is everything a true war story must be, contradictory, confusing, and full of love.

Saleh is a writer in Tehran who is officially an art critic, reluctantly a plot writer for the most popular TV series, and inexorably a war chronicler on the Iraqi and Syrian fronts against ISIS. He has served as a war correspondent in the past, but this time he is there cooking for the soldiers and editing the journals and notes of the martyrs.

The official censor/interrogator assigns him a task on the front, to search for a martyr who may be still alive. People are always asking him to do things, to write reviews, to go to the front, to take someone else to the front, to help them live and die. And he, he doesn’t know exactly what he wants other than to be at the front where life seems to have something ineffable, nothing so rich as meaning or purpose, but perhaps urgency.

We hear so little from the people actually fighting ISIS. From the Iranians with whom we are loosely allied in the battle against the Islamic State, we hear even less. Even if this were not such an excellent book, it would bring us a fresh perspective on an important war. But it is excellent in every way a book can be. Well written with an intriguing plot and big ideas.

Early in the book, the author references Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried though not by name, paraphrasing from How to Tell a True War Story, one of the stories in that collection. By calling in Tim O’Brien, Abdoh invites comparison, a bold thing to do. The Things They Carried is one of those books that will still be read and admired in a hundred years. Reading, I saw several references to O’Brien’s work. When his interrogator H sends him to look for Proust, I thought of Going After Cacciato” and even Paris plays the same role as a refuge. There is a death that immediately brought to mind the death of Curt Lemon, told and retold in story after story. There even is the same discontinuity of time from chapter to chapter.

To say I loved Out of Mesopotamia is an understatement. I know it is a book I will treasure because it says more in its few pages than most books five times its size.

Out of Mesopotamia will be released on September 1st. I received an ARC from the publisher through LibraryThing.

Out of Mesopotamia at Akashic Books

Salar Abdoh Faculty Page