The Poet of Baghdad
A True Story of Love and Defiance
By Jo Tatchell
(Broadway Books, Paperback, 9780767926973, 368pp.)
Publication Date: June 3, 2008
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In the winter of 1979 Nabeel Yasin, Iraq's most famous young poet, gathered together a handful of belongings and fled Iraq with his wife and son. Life in Baghdad had become intolerable. Silenced by a series of brutal beatings at the hands of the Ba'ath Party's Secret Police and declared an “enemy of the state,” he faced certain death if he stayed.
Nabeel had grown up in the late 1950s and early '60s in a large and loving family, amid the domestic drama typical of Iraq's new middle class, with his mother Sabria working as a seamstress to send all of her seven children to college. As his story unfolds, Nabeel meets his future wife and finds his poetic voice while he is a student. But Saddam's rise to power ushers in a new era of repression, imprisonment and betrayal from which few families will escape intact. In this new climate of intimidation and random violence Iraqis live in fear and silence; yet Nabeel’s mother tells him “It is your duty to write.” His poetry, a blend of myth and history, attacks the regime determined to silence him. As Nabeel’s fame and influence as a poet grows, he is forced into hiding when the Party begins to dismantle the city’s infrastructure and impose power cuts and food rationing. Two of his brothers are already in prison and a third is used as a human minesweeper on the frontline of the Iran-Iraq war. After six months in hiding, Nabeel escapes with his wife and young son to Beirut, Paris, Prague, Budapest, and finally England.
Written by Jo Tatchell, a journalist who has spent many years in the Middle East and who is a close friend of Nabeel Yasin’s, Nabeel's Song is the gripping story of a family and its fateful encounter with history. From a warm, lighthearted look at the Yasin family before the Saddam dictatorship, to the tale of Nabeel’s persecution and daring flight, and the suspense-filled account of his family’s rebellion against Saddam's regime, Nabeel's Song is an intimate, illuminating, deeply human chronicle of a country and a culture devastated by political repression and war.
JO TATCHELL is based in London and writes on Middle Eastern culture for a variety of U.K. and U.S. media, including The Guardian.
NABEEL YASIN, one of Iraq’s most celebrated poets, is best known for the epic poem “Brother Yasin.” Since 1990 he has lived in the U.K. with his wife and two sons.
“Jo Tatchell’s moving narrative, from Nabeel’s mouth, tells of endurance, literary resistance and the courage of a loving, close-knit family oppressed by tyranny and war. Behind the deadly statistics and political rhetoric, voices such as his inspire us to pity and pride.”-- The Times (London)
“Such an extraordinary story deserves an extraordinary writer and thankfully it has Jo Tatchell. She puts you perfectly in the place, and her page-turner narrative would shame most thriller writers. A staggering, unmissable achievement.”
“A moving personal tale of family life and love torn apart by persecution and destruction under a crude regime. The story shines through, engrossing in its horror, doubly powerful for the knowledge that a happy ending is still far away.” -- Financial Times