Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Romantic Fantasy, The Gardener of Baghdad, by Ahmad Ardalan is Wonderful Escape! Loved It!


I was born in 1934 in Diyala, an only child to my parents and the light and joy in their lives. My father, along with my two uncles, had inherited a large plot from their late father. It was beautiful agricultural land, with soil so rich that everything they planted turned into gold. My father and uncles were fond of their work and took care of the land very well, and our farms supplied fruits and vegetables to many areas across the country.
I had a happy childhood. I enjoyed watching my father and uncles do their daily work at the farm, and my mother and my uncles’ wives laughed as they went about their daily chores, whether it was cooking or helping the men with some farm work. I loved running around those green farms, collecting dates, oranges, and grapes and playing with my younger cousins. I was particularly close to Mustafa, who was only four months younger. I will never forget the good times we had. Every day, just before sunrise, Mustafa and I used to run to the end of the farm, to a little hut my late grandfather had built years earlier. We’d climb up on top of it and watch the sunflowers open up while the sun was rising. How beautiful a sight it was! We just watched and watched, and everything in life seemed so simple, so perfect. I remember racing him all the way back. We played games like hide-and-seek and football, but the thing Mustafa loved most was climbing that high palm tree next to the house. He loved playing up there, and he never lost to me once when we raced to climb it. He was quick as a bullet, and I’d bet my life that nobody in Iraq could climb it faster than him. With several moves, he was up the tree, picking the sweetest date, while I was still struggling halfway through. 
It was a lovely, peaceful life till, out of nowhere, a tragedy hit. On a rainy day in February of 1943, we received shocking news. My father and one of my uncles were on their way to Baghdad via public transportation, a small, twelve-passenger local bus, the only one in the province that went to Baghdad daily at that time, always at seven a.m. sharp. That day, the roads were muddy and dangerous. It had rained all night before, and the rain continued even after they’d left home. They were urged by my mother and my aunt to delay their visit, but they insisted that they go, stating that they had urgent meetings to attend. In the end, that decision would prove to be a fatal one, but I learned early in life that you can’t fight fate. That day was to be their calling day, that bus ride their last...
The shock hit us hard. My mother was hurt the most, as she was an orphan herself and had no brothers or sisters. My father was her everything, so she was devastated. She’d finally found someone to love in life, but he was taken away from her in a heartbeat. Before that, she’d always worn the most beautiful smile, but I never saw it again after that day. After the tragedy, my youngest uncle was in charge of all of us. It wasn’t easy for such a young man to take care of three families and manage all the farms by himself, so my cousin Mustafa and I tried to help. After all, we were the oldest of the children, both a ripe, old age of ten. I always told Mustafa we had a short-lived childhood, and we were men before our time. I loved working on the farm and helping out, but Mustafa only did it because he felt obliged to. Nevertheless, once school was out, we both helped with everything from seeding and irrigation to driving the tractors, the best part of all. At that age, I had four things in my life: my mother, Mustafa, the rest of the family, and the farm. Ten months later, life struck me with another harsh blow, when my mother passed away from pneumonia. The doctors tried to help, but they were of little use. She hadn’t been the same since my father’s untimely death, and she didn’t seem to have the will to live anymore. So, I was an orphan before I even turned eleven. From that day on, I dedicated everything to my work. I put my heart and soul into it and was my uncle’s right arm. He taught me everything, and as years passed, I began to take on many responsibilities of the farm...


The Gardener of Baghdad
“This novel speaks about a flower… 
The true red rose in my life, 
The rose that represents existence,
beauty and class. Baghdad.”


By Ahmad Ardalan

This beautiful book actually has a book within the book... In this time when there always seems to be war, somewhere, Ahmad Ardalan takes us into a dramatic fantasy of love and life.

The story begins with Adnan, a bookstore owner...
Adnan brushed away the last shards of shattered window glass that were scattered all over the floor. It had taken six hours of effort, hard labor, to restore his bookstore to order, but finally, a new window was in place, and there was no dangerous glass shrapnel anywhere for any of his customers to step on. Luckily for Adnan, he was in the back with a customer when the roadside bomb exploded, the third in two years. The thing exploded about 500 feet away from his store, aimed at a small gathering of workers, and it had taken its bitter toll: five casualties and dozens of injured workers in all.
Maybe everyone is right, Adnan considered. Maybe it’s time I close up my bookshop and leave the country like most everyone else has. Baghdad wasn’t safe anymore; it hadn’t been since day the regime had changed. Not a day went by without casualties anymore, and bombs, kidnappings, and shootings were rampant. It wasn’t the Iraq Adnan used to live in, the place where people could at least feel safe living with their families.


Adnan did not want to leave his shop, even though he had a buyer if he would go...he kept procrastinating, even though his wife and family would be safer... Who knew when other bombs would be used and how much damage would occur. And if he were to sell the shop, his books could not go with him--the newer ones could be replaced, but he had a section of older books that were both valuable but, even more so, his treasures! His father had started the bookstore in 1944 and he'd been working in the shop since he was six. He had grown to love books as well as the bookstore...

What really pained Adnan, the toughest part, was having to let go of the books in the far right corner of his shop, the masterpieces. Those tomes were all rare, unique books, most more than fifty years old. They weren’t even for sale because they were his treasures, and he considered them priceless. That private collection was very close to his heart, just as they had been to his father’s. Anyone who wanted to read them had to ask days ahead of time and could only read them in the store; none of those books ever left the four walls of his bookstore, not even in the hands of his closest, most trusted friends or relatives.
Adnan had read more than half of them, but even he had neglected them for the last three or four years. Of course, this was not out of his own will, but because daily problems had impacted his life and eaten up all his spare time. Adnan moved to the corner where they sat, stood in front of them, and took a whiff, enjoying the ancient, almost musty aroma of those old pages. He moved closer and picked each book up and carefully cleaned their covers and bindings. He knew he could make a good fortune off of those books by selling them to some curator or collector, but those who would truly value the books had either left the country or were dealing with other priorities that left them little spending money for anything as frivolous as rare and beautiful books. Nevertheless, they deserved to be dusted, for they were hidden gems.
After nearly two hours of dusting and thumbing through some of his inventory, Adnan was in the third row when a book fell. He quickly picked it up, and he could tell from the title that it was French. Funny. I don’t remember seeing this one before. Out of curiosity, he opened the book. As is usually the case for books, the first page contained the name of the publisher and the copyright information. It was clearly mentioned that the work had been published in 1931. Intrigued, Adnan turned a few pages. Suddenly, something fell out of the book. When he carefully placed the book back on the shelf and bent down to see what it was, Adnan realized it was a small, leaf-shaped, locket. The pendant was dark golden in color, and two green stones, emeralds in the shape of eyes, were embedded in it. With the most delicate of touches, Adnan opened the locket. On one side were the letters M& A, clearly engraved, but what caught Adnan’s attention at once was what was on the other side: a black and white photograph of a woman behind a small glass. He quickly dusted it off. Although the photo wasn’t that clear, the woman in the picture looked like a foreigner; she had light hair and features far different from most Arabic women...
~~~


After examining the locket that had fallen from a book, he opened the book and discovered that, inside, was what seemed to be a journal--a personal book that was written by hand. There is no other way to put it: Adnan became obsessed with reading the story...a personal story of a man once called The Gardner of Baghdad!


Adnan read of a young man named Ali who had lived on a farm until he was 18 and left to build his own life in Baghdad, where he began doing gardening and landscaping. His work was so magnificent that he quickly gained customers, had his own business and became a successful man who began to establish himself in the city...

Ali was a very personable man who was well-liked and even became a son to a couple who had lost their son, also named Ali. With their help, he was able to learn even more about advancing his business and things were going very well until the day he saw a beautiful women--an English angel, who was the daughter of a British General...

Both knew of the trouble they could get into... Both knew their hearts were guiding what they chose to do from then on...

This is the type of book that I would love to go on and tell you the whole story but that would give too much away. Needless to say, I was just as obsessed as Adnan once I started to learn about Ali's life and his magically falling in love on first sight with Mary...

Ali had never wanted to be involved with politics. He loved Baghdad, but did not want to be entangled into the issues that the city's leaders were facing at that time... If only he had been able to keep that secret life they had started--meeting for a few hours whenever they could... without anybody knowing...

Adnan stayed at the Bookstore for days and nights until he could finish the book, but it just stopped! Ali had never been able to finish his story... 

What do you think a booklover would do at that point?

In the midst of continued turmoil, I applaud Ahmad Ardalan for giving us the pleasure of knowing beautiful Baghdad as he knows and loves it! It certainly provides us a lovely story of how residents of that country are just as frustrated as many world citizens who long for continued violence to...stop!



For romance lovers with a fantasy, unique twist, you might consider this a definite must-read. I am certainly happy to have had the opportunity to learn of The Gardener of Baghdad...Not only is it a beautiful story but it is well-written and easy to sink into and enjoy... It's memorable and bound to come to you again and again as you remember parts of what was most fascinating for you, as reader... Loved it and highly recommend you check it out!


GABixlerReviews


 
Ahmad Ardalan was born in Baghdad in 1979. At the age of two, he moved with his parents to Vienna, Austria, where he spent most of his childhood and underwent his primary studies. After his father's diplomatic mission finished at the end of 1989, he returned to Iraq, where he continued his studies and graduated from the University of Dentistry. As a result of the unstable political, military, social, and economic conditions in his home country, Ahmad decided to leave Iraq and move to the UAE. After facing difficulties to pursue his career in dentistry, he opted to pursue employment in the business world. Since then, Ardalan has held several senior roles within the pharmaceutical and FMCG industries, throughout much of the Middle East. His early childhood in a mixed cultural environment, as well as his world travels, increased his passion for learning about cultures of the world and inspired him to pen The Clout of Gen, his first novel. After eleven years of being away, Ahmad returned to Baghdad in January 2013 on a visit that was full of mixed emotions. Inspired by his trip to Iraq, he wrote his second novel, The Gardener of Baghdad. He did not stop there, as "Matt" his latest Short Story Thriller Series became available beginning 2015.