When the Grey Beetles Took Over Baghdad
By Mona Yahia
May 23, 2007
Hardcover, 344 pages
8.7 x 7.1 x 1.2 inches
$22.50 (Can $25.50)
In this vivid story of growing up in Baghdad in the 1960s, Mona Yahia tells a very personal story set against the backdrop of political upheaval in an increasingly fractured society. Lina clings to childhood and the security of her youth during the last peaceful period for the 2500-year-old Jewish community in Iraq. When that peace begins to crumble in the face of violent outbreaks and increasingly anti-Semitic rhetoric from the government, the usual uncertainties of adolescence are augmented by growing fear. As Lina struggles to understand these dark changes in Iraq, her first love is forced to flee, her father loses his job, her brother is arrested, and her young friend must search among the bodies of hanged Jews for his imprisoned father. As violent coups, arrests, and executions become everyday occurrences, Lina’s family must leave the country they have called home for generations. In the dangerous flight to the border, they must evade the security police, traverse perilous mountains, and entrust their lives and safety to strangers.
In a time when images of carnage and chaos in Iraq flash daily across our television screens, this novel offers an intimate glimpse into the Iraq of the author’s childhood; a place she recollects with a sense of affection and nostalgia despite the circumstances of her departure. Describing her writing as “seventy percent autobiography and seventy percent fiction,” Mona Yahia draws on her experiences as a young woman in a time of successive coups, civil unrest, and growing anti-Semitism to create this unsentimental portrait of a youth disrupted by the violence of political turmoil and revolution.
Yahia, who speaks Arabic, Hebrew, English, German, and French, wrote this narrative in English, finding a safe distance from the complicated claims of culture, heritage, and history in the act of constant translation. Avoiding blame and self-pity, Yahia simply and eloquently evokes the confusion of an adolescent grappling to understand notions of home, family, belonging, prejudice, and ignorance. This timely and sophisticated novel provides a window into the experience of a girl caught in the fallout of religious bigotry and war.
“Yahia’s writing evokes both the sensuality of domestic intimacy...alongside the horror of public hangings...When the Grey Beetles Took Over Baghdad is most politically sophisticated, and also most poignant, when it explores questions of language and identity.”
—Times Literary Supplement
“The novel powerfully conveys the author’s outrage, as well as her nostalgia for her native land.”
“Yahia’s prose courses with insight and wit. Her deftness of touch means that, despite its subject-matter, this novel never becomes a bleak tale of religious persecution, but remains a fresh story about adolescent experience in adversity—with parallels in the most unlikely places.”
Mona Yahia was born in Baghdad in 1954 and escaped with her family to Israel in 1970. She studied Psychology at Tel Aviv University and worked as a trainer in the School for Army Commanders. In 1985, she moved to Germany to study fine arts. This is her first novel, and has been published in Great Britain, Germany, and France