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When the Apricots Bloom

A Novel of Riveting and Evocative Fiction

Gina Wilkinson


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Inspired by her own experiences stationed in Baghdad during Saddam Hussein's rule, former foreign correspondent Gina Wilkinson's evocative, suspenseful debut is told through the eyes of three very different women in Iraq at the turn of the millennium. A secretary, an artist and a diplomat's wife, each must confront the complexities of trust, friendship, and motherhood under the rule of a dictator and his ruthless secret police...

At night, in Huda's fragrant garden, a breeze sweeps in from the desert encircling Baghdad, rustling the leaves of her apricot trees and carrying warning of visitors at her gate. Huda, a secretary at the Australian embassy, lives in fear of the mukhabarat--the secret police who watch and listen for any scrap of information that can be used against America and its allies. They have ordered her to befriend Ally Wilson, the deputy ambassador's wife. Huda has no wish to be an informant, but fears for her teenage son, who may be forced to join a deadly militia. Nor does she know that Ally has dangerous secrets of her own.

Huda's former friend, Rania, enjoyed a privileged upbringing as the daughter of a sheikh. Now her family's wealth is gone, and Rania too is battling to keep her child safe and a roof over their heads. As the women's lives intersect, their hidden pasts spill into the present. Facing possible betrayal at every turn, all three must trust in a fragile, newfound loyalty, even as they discover how much they are willing to sacrifice to protect their families.

Praise For When the Apricots Bloom: A Novel of Riveting and Evocative Fiction

Praise for Gina Wilkinson and When The Apricots Bloom

“A deeply involving and important novel by a master storyteller. Gina Wilkinson highlights the humanity at the center of a brutal conflict. She brings her lived experience to every page of this harrowing, dramatic, and ultimately hopeful book.”
—Susan Wiggs, # 1 New York Times bestselling author

“Gina Wilkinson’s breathtaking novel explores the plight of ordinary people who must flee their country to survive, as three women living under the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein and his brutal secret police risk their lives to protect themselves and their children. Riveting and profound! I adored this book!”
—Ellen Marie Wiseman, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan Collector

“Huda, Rania, and Ally provide a glimpse into the world of Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein. Their lives are so different, and yet common bonds create a friendship that withstands the distrust and paranoia that pervades the dictator’s rule. It is hard to imagine how hard life must have been, although Wilkinson does a marvelous job depicting the fear that all of these characters experienced. Her personal experience in Iraq during in the years prior to the Iraq war adds genuine depth to this story and the characters’ lives. Reading this story gave me an appreciation for my life in a free country! It was riveting from beginning to end. I loved the characters and their strength and perseverance. A great read!”
Stephanie Crowe, Page & Palette (Fairhope, AL)
Wilkinson’s atmospheric and suspenseful novel explores the complicated relationships between two Iraqi women and a diplomat’s wife during Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule. It powerfully illustrates the peril women faced under his misogynistic, autocratic regime, and the risks, lies and betrayals they had to commit in order to protect their families. I read this novel with my heart in my throat.”
—Lisa Johnson, Penguin Bookshop (Sewickley, PA)
“It is so easy to forget that there are families behind the headlines, and women desperately clinging to them, willing to risk everything to protect what they hold dear.  The stories of these three women are each compelling on their own, but when intertwined they become formidable.  The sights and smells of Iraq are so vivid, casting hope where there seems to be only despair.  This stunning novel has such an authentic voice it is easy to forget that it is a novel rather than a memoir or history.”
—Jennifer Winberry, Hunterdon County Library (Flemington, NJ)
“Reading this novel, I felt the warmth of the sun and tasted the sweetness of the lime tea. The intricately woven relationship between these characters and the expert pacing had me at the edge of my seat, turning the pages as fast as possible all the while wanting to savor every sentence, and even going back to reread a particularly beautiful passage.”
—Kaitlin Smith, Copperfield’s Books (Healdsburg, CA)
“Wilkinson’s chilling story about three women living under Saddam Hussein’s brutal and oppressive regime draws from the time she spent in Iraq.  Her distinctive perspective is especially compelling when she contrasts the lives of the two Iraqi women – estranged friends Huda and Rania – with that of Ally, the Australian diplomat’s wife who unwittingly brings them together...through their bravery and determination all three women are able to write new endings for their stories.”
—Margo Grimm Eule, East City Bookshop (Washington, DC)
“Marvelous…mesmerizing. It was a book I couldn’t put down.  It has stayed with me. All I can say is ‘WOW – read it. You won’t be disappointed.’”
—Virginia Holsten, Vinton Public Library (Vinton, IA)
When the Apricots Bloom is an extraordinary novel, that is both poignant and hopeful.  Friendship, family, trust and betrayal all factor into the lives of three remarkable women in Baghdad, under the suffocating reign of Saddam Hussein and his secret police. This powerful saga will have your heart racing, as these women risk everything for their children's freedom.” 
Maxwell Gregory, Lake Forest Book Store (Lake Forest, IL)

Kensington, 9781496729354, 320pp.

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

About the Author

Gina Wilkinson is an award-winning journalist, author, former foreign correspondent, and documentary maker who's reported from some of the world's most intriguing and perilous places for the BBC, NPR, ABC, and other renowned public broadcasters. During two decades living and working in hotspots across the globe, she spent more than a year in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein. At that time, Iraq was virtually sealed off from the outside world, and Gina lived under tight surveillance. One of her closest Iraqi friends even worked as a secret police informant, reporting on her every move. Gina now works in international development, supporting efforts to end poverty in the developing world. She lives in Australia and can be found online at

Conversation Starters from

1. When the Apricots Bloom was partly inspired by the author’s own experiences living in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein, at a time when Western sanctions kept Iraq virtually cut off from the outside world. During that period, her closest Iraqi friend worked as a secret police informant and reported on her every move. Did her portrayal of life in Baghdad seem realistic to you? What did you learn about life for ordinary Iraqis that surprised you?

2. If you were in Huda’s situation, how would you have responded to the orders from the secret police? Should Huda have felt guilty about any of her actions?

3. Compared to Huda, how does Rania handle pressure from the regime? Does her family’s status protect her, or is that just an illusion? Rania is also an artist—a respected role in Iraqi society. How does this compare to prevailing attitudes toward artists in your own culture?

4. Ally is desperate to find a connection with her mother. Given the restrictions she’s under, do you think her subterfuge is justified, or is her search for clues to her mother’s past irresponsible? What would you have done differently?

5. Huda’s husband, Abdul Amir, plays a key role in the book. To what extent does he influence Huda’s decisions? Did your perception of him alter over time?

6. The novel alternates between Huda’s, Rania’s, and Ally’s points of view. How are their worldviews and attitudes reflected in their narrative styles? Do you prefer one to the other? How would the novel have differed if it had been told from only one perspective?

7. In the acknowledgments, the author references the debate over #OwnVoices. To what extent do you agree or disagree with her statements? Do you think it was appropriate for her to write from the point of view of an Iraqi woman?