Say ‘Baghdad Central’ and people will immediately begin to talk about the highly acclaimed Channel 4 co-produced TV series, loosely based on Elliott Colla’s far better novel of the same name. Colla’s book is an intelligent, tightly plotted piece of writing, set in post-war Iraq and written from the viewpoint of the Iraqis.

Colla, an associate professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at Georgetown University, sets his tale in post-Saddam Hussein Baghdad, where the US-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) looms among the chaos. With the military and law enforcement agencies disbanded by the CPA, protagonist Muhsin Khadr al-Khafaji finds himself, through a series of misunderstandings, working for the Americans, building up the new police force. As part of his deal with them, he negotiates treatment for his ailing daughter, access to adequate medical care limited in the recovering country. Khafaji’s main focus, however, is on finding his missing niece and other Iraqi young women, translators, who have also disappeared.

An atmospheric noir, Baghdad Central is also so much more, Colla showing us a post-invasion Iraq, not from a Western viewpoint, as is the norm, but from that of the locals themselves, whose roles continually shift according to who’s viewing them, Khafaji himself father, investigator, collaborator, survivor.

The book is infused with poetry, hardly surprising as Arabic literature is Colla’s speciality, and informed by Iraqi traditions, beliefs, language and culture. More than that, it’s an empathetic look at a country in chaos, desperately trying to recover its footing, of a people trying to survive after seeing their country devastated not just by a dictatorship, but by war. It’s detailed, authentic and moving. We can’t recommend it enough.


Baghdad Central  | Elliott Colla | Bitter Lemon Press | 2014 | paperback | £8.99

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Acknowledgements: This review is published as part of the publisher virtual book tour. Many thanks to lovely Anne Cater for arranging it and to the publisher for sending a review copy. All views expressed are our own. All rights reserved. Please check out the other great reviewers on the tour.

See also: Anita Nair’s Bangalore detective Borei Gowda‘;’Michael Connelly’s epic hero, Mickey Haller‘;‘Chris Whitaker’s small-town America’; ‘Damian Barr’s slice of South Africa’; ‘Nora Roberts’ Sanctuary: an Old Familiar’; By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Yvonne Battle-Fenton’s Remembered‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘; ‘We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

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