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In this moving, suspenseful debut novel, three courageous women confront the complexities of trust, friendship, motherhood, and betrayal under the rule of a ruthless dictator and his brutal secret police. Former foreign correspondent Gina Wilkinson draws on her own experiences to take readers inside a haunting story of Iraq at the turn of the millennium and the impossib In this moving, suspenseful debut novel, three courageous women confront the complexities of trust, friendship, motherhood, and betrayal under the rule of a ruthless dictator and his brutal secret police. Former foreign correspondent Gina Wilkinson draws on her own experiences to take readers inside a haunting story of Iraq at the turn of the millennium and the impossible choices faced by families under a deadly regime. 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 teenaged 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.


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In this moving, suspenseful debut novel, three courageous women confront the complexities of trust, friendship, motherhood, and betrayal under the rule of a ruthless dictator and his brutal secret police. Former foreign correspondent Gina Wilkinson draws on her own experiences to take readers inside a haunting story of Iraq at the turn of the millennium and the impossib In this moving, suspenseful debut novel, three courageous women confront the complexities of trust, friendship, motherhood, and betrayal under the rule of a ruthless dictator and his brutal secret police. Former foreign correspondent Gina Wilkinson draws on her own experiences to take readers inside a haunting story of Iraq at the turn of the millennium and the impossible choices faced by families under a deadly regime. 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 teenaged 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.

30 review for When the Apricots Bloom

  1. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    I don’t read many books that are described as suspenseful, but I was taken by the description of this story. It was indeed full of suspense, but I’m glad I took the chance . During the Sadam Hussein regime in Iraq in the early 2000’s three women cross paths. Ally Wilson, wife of an Australian diplomat is searching for information about the mother she knew only until she was five years old. Her mother had spent time as a young nurse in Iraq. Huda and Rania are best friends and sign a sister pact I don’t read many books that are described as suspenseful, but I was taken by the description of this story. It was indeed full of suspense, but I’m glad I took the chance . During the Sadam Hussein regime in Iraq in the early 2000’s three women cross paths. Ally Wilson, wife of an Australian diplomat is searching for information about the mother she knew only until she was five years old. Her mother had spent time as a young nurse in Iraq. Huda and Rania are best friends and sign a sister pact with their blood as teenagers. When we meet them 24 years later they are estranged. We don’t know what happened in between and why they are no longer friends because all three of these women have secrets which are slowly revealed. The story becomes harrowing as all of them face the scrutiny of the Iraqi intelligence as Ally fights for her safety and Huda and Rania fight for their children’s lives and their beliefs . I liked these three independent women as they connect through their secrets and face the danger together. Gina Wilkinson tell us in her note that the characters are fictional, but says it was “inspired by my real-life experiences living in Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime and later during the Iraq War.” While I certainly remember this time frame and the news surrounding it, Wilkinson has brought to life the time and place and made it all so real. It’s a story of friendship, trust and the determination of three women trying to survive. I received a copy of this book from Kensington Publishing Corp. through Edelweiss.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

    Gina Wilkinson based her book, When The Apricots Bloom, on her own experience of living in Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime. She was previously a journalist but arrived in Iraq as "a dependent spouse". Gina Wilkinson was thirty-one years old when she lived in Iraq and was befriended by a woman informant who reported back to the regime about all of her comings and goings and who she spoke with. It was not until after Saddam Hussein's regime toppled that Gina found out about the informant. She Gina Wilkinson based her book, When The Apricots Bloom, on her own experience of living in Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime. She was previously a journalist but arrived in Iraq as "a dependent spouse". Gina Wilkinson was thirty-one years old when she lived in Iraq and was befriended by a woman informant who reported back to the regime about all of her comings and goings and who she spoke with. It was not until after Saddam Hussein's regime toppled that Gina found out about the informant. She knew that the mukhabarat gave the informant no choice but to follow orders. That experience planted a seed in Gina Wilkinson's mind and inspired her to write When the Apricots Bloom. Although it is a fictionalized story it is based on the author's experience. There are three main characters in When the Apricots Bloom. They were all strong female characters, something that Iraq frowned upon. It was not easy to be a woman living in Sadaam Hussein's Iraq. Huda was a secretary at the Australian Embassy. The Mukhabarat, Iraq's secret police, feared by all, commissioned Huda to spy on Ally Wilson, the deputy ambassador's wife. Her job was to gather any or all information from Ally that could incriminate America or any of its allies. Huda reported to the Mukhabarat and based her information on what she gathered from conversations she had with Ally and places she accompanied her to. Huda hated being put in this position. She never wanted to be an informant but when the Mukhabarat threatened to force her fourteen year old son, Khalid, to join the Lion Cubs and then the deadly militia of the fedayeen, Huda knew she has no choice but to accept her role as informant. She was prepared to do whatever she had to do to keep her son safe. Rania grew up in the same village as Huda but Rania's childhood was very different from Huda's. She was the daughter of a sheikh and led a very privileged life. Against all odds the two girls became best friends. Early on in their young friendship, they performed a ritual where they became blood sisters. Now with the introduction of Saddam Hussein's reign and her father's death over ten years ago, Rania had lost her wealth and privilege. Back when Rania was just married she was part of the Opposition that tried to bring democracy and freedom to Iraq. Rania lost her husband during the Opposition and Huda lost both of her brothers. Huda blamed Rania for her brothers' deaths. Huda believed that Rania persuaded her brothers to rise up against Saddam Hussein and his regime. Huda could not forgive Rania for her brothers' deaths and so they terminated their friendship. Rania was forced to sell her father's extensive library of sacred books to make ends meet. Rania operated a gallery in Baghdad and had one daughter, Hanan, who she would do anything to protect. She was an artist but preferred now to show other artist's work than to produce paintings herself anymore. Through the course of When the Apricots Bloom, the lives of Huda, Rania and Ally intersect. Rania and Huda came to rely on one another once again. Ally's secrets of why she really chose to accompany her husband, Tom, to Iraq were revealed and her help was commissioned by Rania and Huda. Ally found it in her heart to do what she believed was right even if it meant that she had to lie and deceive some. How far will these mothers go to protect their children? There were also glimpses of Iraq before Saddam Hussein became dictator. That Iraq was full of people that were more free, and the land was bountiful and more beautiful. That was the Iraq Ally had expected to see when she chose to accompany her husband to Iraq. Ally, however, was shown an Iraq that was full of corruption and ugliness and laced with fear. When the Apricots Bloom was a beautifully written debut novel written by Gina Wilkinson. I look forward to reading other books by this author. Friendship, secrets, betrayal, fear, intimidation, threats, loyalty, trust and motherhood were the threads that brought this story to life. It was eye opening and fascinating to read about life during Saddam Hussein's rule, especially through the story of these three women. This book will be published in January 2021. I highly recommend it. I received a complimentary print copy of When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson from Kensington Publishing Corporation through a goodreads give away. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    This is an atmospheric and suspenseful story partially based on the author’s year of living in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein’s rule, as a foreign correspondent. During her time there she lived under tight surveillance and one of her closest Iraqi friends worked as a secret police informant. She tells this story through the eyes of three women. Two Iraqi women and a diplomats wife. The novel shows the fear and distrust, risks, lies, and betrayals of life under this regime. I was riveted! 4.5

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    Inspired by the author’s own time in Baghdad under the reign of Saddam Hussein, Aussie author Gina Wilkinson has produced a novel which is nothing short of horrifying as it shows the brutality of the time. Ally Wilson was from Australia and had accompanied her husband Tom to Iraq where his duties as Deputy Ambassador would keep him busy in Baghdad, with him often having to be away for days at a time. Ally was bored and befriended Huda, a secretary at the Australian Embassy. But Huda would fall f Inspired by the author’s own time in Baghdad under the reign of Saddam Hussein, Aussie author Gina Wilkinson has produced a novel which is nothing short of horrifying as it shows the brutality of the time. Ally Wilson was from Australia and had accompanied her husband Tom to Iraq where his duties as Deputy Ambassador would keep him busy in Baghdad, with him often having to be away for days at a time. Ally was bored and befriended Huda, a secretary at the Australian Embassy. But Huda would fall foul to the mukhabarat – the secret police who would do anything to gain information, including turning her into an informant. Huda had no choice once her son Khalid was under threat – joining the bloodthirsty, deadly militia was not an option. Rania, once a childhood friend of Huda before lies and death tore them apart, feared for her daughter Halal. The horror that was ahead for her young daughter didn’t bear thinking about and while Rania's mother was able to have Halal at her property in Basra, that safety was an illusion. Huda, Rania and Ally – three women whose lives overlapped in a city where danger was always lurking – would they be able to help one another evade the mukhabarat? Would they be able to keep the children safe? Would they themselves be safe? When the Apricots Bloom is an amazing debut novel; suspenseful, heart-in-throat reading which I thoroughly enjoyed (probably not the right word under the circumstances!) The author suffered herself, as outlined in her notes at the end, but writing this novel would be cathartic for her. The story shows how a mother’s love for her child outshines anything else. It also encompasses forgiveness, friendship and an innate strength which wouldn’t be surpassed. Highly recommended. With thanks to NetGalley and Hachette AU for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Karren Sandercock

    Baghdad 2002: Huda, Rania and Ally all live in the Iraqi city and during the sadistic rule of Saddam Hussein. Huda works as a secretary for the Australian embassy, at night she returns home to her teenage son Khalid and her unemployed husband Abdul. Her house is a fortress, the front gates are chained, the entire home is surrounded by a high fence, she’s not game to talk freely in her own house in case it’s been bugged and speaks to her husband at night in the backyard. The mukhabarat or the sec Baghdad 2002: Huda, Rania and Ally all live in the Iraqi city and during the sadistic rule of Saddam Hussein. Huda works as a secretary for the Australian embassy, at night she returns home to her teenage son Khalid and her unemployed husband Abdul. Her house is a fortress, the front gates are chained, the entire home is surrounded by a high fence, she’s not game to talk freely in her own house in case it’s been bugged and speaks to her husband at night in the backyard. The mukhabarat or the secret police are aware of where she works; they visit her at home and want her to spy on her boss and his wife. Ally Wilson accompanied her husband Tom to Baghdad and he’s the Australian deputy ambassador. Ally’s very naïve, she didn’t understand how restricted her life would be in Iraq, and it’s not safe for her to walk around the streets and she needs a driver. The secret police want Huda to befriend Ally, gather any information she can about the Australian couple and she has no choice. Huda doesn’t want to be an informant but they threaten her son and they could make him join the militia or as it’s officially called the fedayeen and she does what she’s told. Rania is Huda’s childhood friend; she grew up in a rich household and is a daughter of a sheikh. Her family is now broke; she’s a struggling artist and is selling her dads book collection to get by. The two friends meet again at a party and discover they both know Ally. Rania has a very pretty teenage daughter Hanan she’s very concerned about her safety and both mothers are desperate to get their children out of Iraq. Ally didn’t tell the truth on her visa application, she failed to mention her mother was American and she has dual citizenship, she worked as a journalist in Australia and she told them she’s a housewife. All three women have secrets and they need to come up with a plan to save the two teenagers and Ally? A brilliant first book by Gina Wilkinson, it’s interesting and very confronting reading about life in Iraq during the time. I found it absolutely shocking how people couldn’t trust anyone; friends, family, work colleagues and everyone lived constantly under a dark cloud of fear. They faced the secret police arriving at their front door at any time, breaking it down, they could be arrested, tortured, people disappeared and to be never seen again. I received a copy of this book in exchange for and honest review and I gave When the Apricots Bloom five stars. https://karrenreadsbooks.blogspot.com/

  6. 4 out of 5

    Marianne

    “In Iraq, every friendship is a risk.” When The Apricots Bloom is the first novel by Australian former foreign correspondent, radio journalist, documentary maker and author, Gina Wilkinson. Huda al Basri and her husband, Abdul Amir both had good jobs in Baghdad, but that was before the rise of the dictator Saddam Hussein, when Western sanctions kept Iraq virtually cut off from the rest of the world. By 2002, she considers herself lucky to have a secretarial position at the Australian Embassy, alt “In Iraq, every friendship is a risk.” When The Apricots Bloom is the first novel by Australian former foreign correspondent, radio journalist, documentary maker and author, Gina Wilkinson. Huda al Basri and her husband, Abdul Amir both had good jobs in Baghdad, but that was before the rise of the dictator Saddam Hussein, when Western sanctions kept Iraq virtually cut off from the rest of the world. By 2002, she considers herself lucky to have a secretarial position at the Australian Embassy, although Abdul Amir’s male pride has suffered a real blow. Her position puts her in close contact with Ally Wilson, wife of the new Deputy Ambassador and, while the pay is good, this proximity draws the attention of the mukhabarat, Iraq’s secret police. Suddenly, she has to develop the friendship and report back every mundane detail. Refusal is impossible; the threat to her son is thinly veiled: “The mukhabarat had finished their tea. ‘We will leave you now, sister. It is late and no doubt you want to take care of your son.’ Abu Issa rose to his feet. ‘He is your most precious possession, is he not?’” Meanwhile Ally, bored and a little lonely, embarks, somewhat naively and unbeknownst to her husband, on a personal quest to track down women knew her mother, an American nurse stationed in Baghdad in the late 1970s, without really considering the implications for those she involves. Nor, having omitted from her entry visa form her dual citizenship (American/Australian) and her former occupation (journalist), is Ally fully aware of the potentially dire consequences should either fact become known in the current political climate of Iraq. Rania Mansour’s gallery relies on foreign clients to survive, and diplomats form a large part of her custom. The ruling regime looks kindly upon the arts, but the president’s representative is an oily man whose eye on her fourteen-year-old daughter is unsettling; at his mention of Uday Hussein, known for his depraved appetites and cruelty, Rania can barely maintain her controlled poise. Huda duly cultivates the friendship: the Australian girl is likeable and easy-going, but as the demands of the mukhabarat escalate, and the threats become more explicit (few parents would want their boys to join the fedayeen), Huda becomes desperate to remove her son from danger, even while Abdul Amir contends that true Iraqis do not abandon their country. Back in 1978, the farmer’s daughter and the sheikh’s swore eternal friendship; long-held resentments and blame eroded that, but now Huda visits on the only person of influence she knows a demand for help getting a passport. That unremitting fear leads to a cascade of near-impossible requests backed up by threats. Can they save their children? The story Wilkinson gives the reader is redolent of first-hand experience on every page. From her evocative rendition of Baghdad and Basra, the tension and fear are almost palpable, but the reader also can just about feel the heat and dust, smell the fragrances, and which book lover could read about “a river of books” and not itch to visit the Mutanabbi book market? This is a book that explores questions of truth, loyalty, and friendship, and demonstrates how, under extreme circumstances good people can make bad choices. Wilkinson has a marvellous turn of phrase: “But lies didn’t take kindly to being forgotten, they clung to her pant leg, even as she ran for the door” and “Instead, they sucked on their nargilah pipes and fanned the coals with their bitterness” are examples. Moving, thought-provoking and clearly authentic, this is a brilliant debut novel. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Hachette Australia.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kate Baxter

    Wow! Such a moving and informative tale of life in Iraq under the heavy fist of Saddam Hussein as told by Gina Wilkinson, a former foreign correspondent of several prominent news outlets. Having lived as a "dependent spouse" in Iraq during the "regime", she has composed a well-informed tale which draws on her Iraqi experience at a time when the country was closed off to the rest of the world. From its reading one may ask, "In a country fraught with fear, suspicion and constant betrayal, can frie Wow! Such a moving and informative tale of life in Iraq under the heavy fist of Saddam Hussein as told by Gina Wilkinson, a former foreign correspondent of several prominent news outlets. Having lived as a "dependent spouse" in Iraq during the "regime", she has composed a well-informed tale which draws on her Iraqi experience at a time when the country was closed off to the rest of the world. From its reading one may ask, "In a country fraught with fear, suspicion and constant betrayal, can friendship truly exist?" The story focuses on the lives of three women, each one harboring secrets too dangerous to share. There are the two Iraqi women, each from a different social strata and then there is the Australian "dependent spouse" whose husband is the deputy ambassador. The women's lives become intertwined and friendships are tenuously established. Tensions rise gradually over the course of the story, reaching a thrilling climax and gently easing to a satisfying conclusion. For all the differences among the women, it is apparent that they share similar desires - equality, respect, safety for children, love and friendship. But one must ask whether such things may exist within a dictatorship. Just because one is paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get them. For westerners, it is difficult to imagine life under such strain. This story helps them better understand the similarities regular people around the globe share over their differences. It was a poignant story with excellent character development and exquisite description of scene. For those wishing to broaden their cultural understanding, then this may be the perfect read for you. I am grateful to author Gina Wilkinson and Kensington Books for having provided a complimentary copy of this book. Their generosity, however, has not influenced this review - the words of which are mine alone.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nursebookie

    When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson is a debut novel that is both powerful and memorable. The story is influenced by the authors’ time in Baghdad as a foreign correspondent and whose friend is someone whom she later realized was a secret informant. When The Apricots Bloom tells the tale of three women’s lives each unique in their perspectives and stories in Iraq during the ruthless reign of Saddam Hussein. The author weaves the stories beautifully in a suspenseful and atmospheric read. Ally When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson is a debut novel that is both powerful and memorable. The story is influenced by the authors’ time in Baghdad as a foreign correspondent and whose friend is someone whom she later realized was a secret informant. When The Apricots Bloom tells the tale of three women’s lives each unique in their perspectives and stories in Iraq during the ruthless reign of Saddam Hussein. The author weaves the stories beautifully in a suspenseful and atmospheric read. Ally is an Australian woman accompanying her husband on a diplomatic posting, a journalist who must become a housewife for the purposes of her visa. Rania is an artist who has been involved in secret rebellion in the past and who is barely managing to scrape by. Huda who works as a secretary at the Australian embassy, is required by the secret police, the mukhabarat, to spy on Ally. The writing transported me not only to the time of this intriguing story but also immersed me in learning about the rich history, the art scene, and the book markets. The story in its core is about the past, secrets, friendships, forgiveness, motherhood, trust, grief and loss.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sheena

    I couldn't connect with this story at all. I had expected a story between three women and a lovely friendship blossoming between them but I didn't really get that. I liked that all three of them had different situations and were strong, smart in a time of Hussein's rule. I loved the idea around it but it was slow paced. Also, it kind of reminded me of American Dirt as a white women is writing a POV of Iraqi women. Wilkinson definitely did her research and she did live there, based it off her exp I couldn't connect with this story at all. I had expected a story between three women and a lovely friendship blossoming between them but I didn't really get that. I liked that all three of them had different situations and were strong, smart in a time of Hussein's rule. I loved the idea around it but it was slow paced. Also, it kind of reminded me of American Dirt as a white women is writing a POV of Iraqi women. Wilkinson definitely did her research and she did live there, based it off her experience but I don't know how I feel about that. Overall, I just couldn't connect with this and wasn’t what I expected. Thank you to Netgalley and Kensington for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gloria Arthur

    ⭐️4 Stars⭐️ When the Apricots Bloom is a debut novel inspired by the author’s experiences in Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s rule where she worked as a former war correspondent. What would you do if the secret police demanded you spy on a friend in order to protect your family? The story is narrated by three women Huda, a secretary at the Australian embassy, Ally Wilson the deputy ambassador’s wife (an Australian) and Raina an artist and the daughter of a sheikh who preferred to exhibit other’s work ⭐️4 Stars⭐️ When the Apricots Bloom is a debut novel inspired by the author’s experiences in Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s rule where she worked as a former war correspondent. What would you do if the secret police demanded you spy on a friend in order to protect your family? The story is narrated by three women Huda, a secretary at the Australian embassy, Ally Wilson the deputy ambassador’s wife (an Australian) and Raina an artist and the daughter of a sheikh who preferred to exhibit other’s work rather than her own. The reader is transported to one of the worlds most legendary cities and as the story unfolds we see how courage and a mother's love for her child will take priority, no matter the consequences. How much will a mother sacrifice to protect her child? A very confronting and moving story illustrating life under Saddam Hussein’s regime where people lived with intimidation and in fear and where even a friendship could be a risk. The secret police(mukhabarat) were ruthless. The richly drawn characters were intriguing and I loved how the story depicted Iraq's cultural richness, the atmosphere of the markets, the amazing cuisine and incredible history. Baghdad’s amazing art scene features prominently in the novel also. Themes of friendships, trust, motherhood, secrets and betrayal. We are shown despite different backgrounds people share so much in common. When The Apricots Bloom was thought provoking , gripping and a compelling read. I wish to thank Hachette Australia for the opportunity to win a copy of the book

  11. 5 out of 5

    Amanda - Mrs B's Book Reviews

    *https://mrsbbookreviews.wordpress.com Loyal companship, family ties and parenthood defines the direction of When the Apricots Bloom, the debut release from Gina Wilkinson. The author draws on her extensive background living and working in Iraq under the oppressive rule of Saddam Hussein, to unfurl the lives of three connected women. When the Apricots Bloom is a startling, eye opening and emphatic novel. A book filled with many demanding questions about life, friendship and family, When the Aprico *https://mrsbbookreviews.wordpress.com Loyal companship, family ties and parenthood defines the direction of When the Apricots Bloom, the debut release from Gina Wilkinson. The author draws on her extensive background living and working in Iraq under the oppressive rule of Saddam Hussein, to unfurl the lives of three connected women. When the Apricots Bloom is a startling, eye opening and emphatic novel. A book filled with many demanding questions about life, friendship and family, When the Apricots Bloom asks the reader to consider how far you would be prepared to go to protect someone you care about deeply. Gina Wilkinson’s first novel follows the lives of three remarkable women. The first is Huda, as woman employed as a secretary to the Australian embassy in Baghdad. Huda is a woman constantly on edge, as she has been ordered to conduct business for the secret police, which involves making friends with the ambassador’ s wife. Ally has come to Baghdad as her husband is the deputy ambassador, but this posting is fraught with issues. The final perspective Gina Wilkinson draws on is Rania, a creative soul and daughter to a sheikh. But a change in financial circumstances for Rania and her family sees this once wealthy woman struggling to stay afloat. When the Apricots Bloom sees the lives of these three women converge as they confront the past and contend with the present. With threats abound and danger on the cards, each figure must do all they can to safeguard their lives. First and foremost, I urge you read the heartfelt author’s note offered by the generous author of When the Apricots Bloom, Gina Wilkinson, as it gives an excellent window into the soul of this novel. I really appreciated how the author took the time to air her personal story with such conviction. Although When the Apricots Bloom is a work of fiction, it is drawn heavily from the author’s experiences living in Iraq. I haven’t read much material on the time period depicted in the novel (2002) and the location (Baghdad) so the opportunity to learn more about Iraq was definitely welcomed on my behalf. Wilkinson shuffles her viewpoints between three core female protagonists, Huda, Ally and Rania. Each woman is presented with a great deal of heart and understanding. We learn about each woman’s innermost feelings, thoughts, fears, hopes and past lives. I took an instant liking to Ally, but I also warmed to the other two leads. Wilkinson does a fine job of portraying the differing lives and preoccupations of each respective woman. Wilkinson has a natural tone to her storytelling, that allows the reader to make a real and lasting connection to her cast list. I held the protagonist set of When the Apricots Bloom in high regard, which is thanks to the experiences carefully outlined by the author as the book progresses. I found reading When the Apricots Bloom to be quite an invigorating experience. Despite the fact that this book outlines some rather trying situations encompassing moments of fear, danger, economics, oppression, war, loss and devastation, there are instances where this novel takes the reader somewhere else. With survival, endurance, resilience, courage, bravery, compassion and loyalty leading the charge many times over, it was a rewarding experience to follow along with this story. At all points of When the Apricots Bloom I felt that Wilkinson seemed to capture the true essence of Iraq during the time period outlined. Wilkinson also works hard to build an expansive picture of Baghdad, in conjunction with a day to day glimpse into the general happenings in this interesting corner of the world. With such a richly drawn field, taken directly from the author’s first hand experiences, readers can take away a great deal about a world that differs to their own. Poignant, genuine and convincing, When the Apricots Bloom is a veritable read that I recommend. *Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes. When the Apricots Bloom is book #11 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)

    3.5 stars Huda and Rania were childhood best friends, torn apart by the devastating consequences of the revolution that Saddam Hussein’s rule was determined to extinguish. Now married with a son, Huda has found work as a secretary at the Australian embassy in Baghdad. The pay is a blessing since her husband’s career has come to a halt along with the economy. Unfortunately her position has gained the attention of the Iraqi secret police and they want her to befriend Ally Wilson, the deputy ambassad 3.5 stars Huda and Rania were childhood best friends, torn apart by the devastating consequences of the revolution that Saddam Hussein’s rule was determined to extinguish. Now married with a son, Huda has found work as a secretary at the Australian embassy in Baghdad. The pay is a blessing since her husband’s career has come to a halt along with the economy. Unfortunately her position has gained the attention of the Iraqi secret police and they want her to befriend Ally Wilson, the deputy ambassador’s wife, to gain her trust and hopefully information that could be used against America. The threat grows each day that she doesn’t have useful information and soon her teenaged son could be forced to join the militia. Rania’s privileged upbringing is in the distant past. Her family’s wealth is now non-existent and her daughter has caught the eye of a dangerous member of the regime. The former friends are reunited in their desperate attempt to save their children from the growing dangers of their homeland. Newlywed Ally Wilson was determined to travel with her husband to Baghdad. Her mother died when she was a child and all she has left are postcards she sent during her time in Baghdad. Ally has so many questions and, as a former journalist, isn’t afraid to dig for answers. Looking for answers in Baghdad is almost certainly a death sentence, especially when Ally has secrets to hide. The lives of Huda, Rania, and Ally intersect in this novel about friendship, motherhood, and betrayal in the middle of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. While I love the idea of this story - the atmosphere, the relationships, the intense scrutiny as the government watches everyone and anyone could turn against you - it fell short for me. I never felt a connection to the characters; it lacked the emotional level I would expect. While the complexities of the relationships are stated and understood, it isn’t detailed in a way that allowed me to become swept up in the urgency. The greatest strength of this novel is its atmosphere; the descriptions of locations and the strategies of the secret police are exceptional. I was surprised and fascinated by the author’s note which explains that Gina Wilkinson is a former foreign correspondent who witnessed Baghdad under Hussein’s rule. Thanks to Kensington Publishing Group and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review. When the Apricots Bloom is scheduled for release on February 2, 2021. For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Ally Wilson, new wife of an Australian diplomat in Baghdad, has secrets, as do the other two women featured in this novel that is set in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But it is Ally that Gina Wilkinson identifies with most closely both have had experience as American journalists, Wilkerson shares Wilson's status as a "dependent spouse," and this setting provides the strongest element of the story. She also had the experience of having been befriended by a woman who turns out to be an informant to Sadda Ally Wilson, new wife of an Australian diplomat in Baghdad, has secrets, as do the other two women featured in this novel that is set in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But it is Ally that Gina Wilkinson identifies with most closely both have had experience as American journalists, Wilkerson shares Wilson's status as a "dependent spouse," and this setting provides the strongest element of the story. She also had the experience of having been befriended by a woman who turns out to be an informant to Saddam's secret police, the Mukhabarat, which she didn't discover until later. Wilkinson has woven a work of fiction around these experiences, one that is uneven but does have some surprising elements.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sarah-Hope

    When the Apricots Bloom depicts the lives of three very different, but closely connected, women in Saddam Hussein's Baghdad. Huda and Rania are both Iraqi and were once close friends, but Huda's family has paid a price for participating in the unsuccessful uprising again Hussein, while Rania's wealthy and powerful family was able to save her from the repercussions of her involvement in the uprising. Ally, the wife of a diplomat at the Australian embassy meets both women, inadvertently bringing t When the Apricots Bloom depicts the lives of three very different, but closely connected, women in Saddam Hussein's Baghdad. Huda and Rania are both Iraqi and were once close friends, but Huda's family has paid a price for participating in the unsuccessful uprising again Hussein, while Rania's wealthy and powerful family was able to save her from the repercussions of her involvement in the uprising. Ally, the wife of a diplomat at the Australian embassy meets both women, inadvertently bringing them into contact with one another. Each of these women is hiding things. Each of these women is, at times, lying to the others. But they find themselves in a situation where lives depend upon their ability to trust one another, even as they are aware of the deceit. This book is exceptional, both for the complexity of its central characters and for the glimpse it offers of life under Hussein. For too many Iraqis, there are no good choices—just bad choices and worse ones. For American readers the novel has particular resonance. That failed uprising failed because the U.S. government didn't provide promised support to the rebels. Read When the Apricots Bloom and be prepared to love the characters and hate the world they find themselves living in. I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via EdelweissPlus; the opinions are my own.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary Reeve

    Beautifully written, suspenseful exploration of secrets and betrayal in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, where every friendship is a risk. Huda is a secretary at the Australian Embassy. She's grateful for the job, as her finance analyst husband has been unemployed because of the American economic sanctions. But there is a problem: the Iraqi secret police are pressuring Huda to spy on her boss' likeable young wife. As the menace and mistrust intensify, Huda reconnects with a childhood friend, whom she blam Beautifully written, suspenseful exploration of secrets and betrayal in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, where every friendship is a risk. Huda is a secretary at the Australian Embassy. She's grateful for the job, as her finance analyst husband has been unemployed because of the American economic sanctions. But there is a problem: the Iraqi secret police are pressuring Huda to spy on her boss' likeable young wife. As the menace and mistrust intensify, Huda reconnects with a childhood friend, whom she blames for a terrible loss. How will these different women navigate such a brutal and uncertain world? What will survive of their friendships, their families, their sense of self? This is an exceptional book. The characters have deeply grounded arcs, making difficult, life-changing choices that are understandable and relatable. It was informed by the author’s own experiences, but each main character is fully realized and sympathetic. Iraq is almost its own character, its beauty, elegance, and history still apparent in the lovely bookstores, the bright blue sky, but encroached all around with the ugliness and corruption of the regime. Highly recommended. Many thanks to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Calzean

    Interesting novel based on the real-life experiences of the author. Ally is the wife of the Australian deputy Ambassador. She is one of the few wives in the diplomatic world still living in Baghdad during the last days of Saddam Hussein and the threats from GW Bush. Her local secretary, Huda, is forced to report to the secret service all of Ally’s movements. Huda’s husband is unemployed and her teenage son is being groomed by a religious political group seeking to establish a post-Hussein governm Interesting novel based on the real-life experiences of the author. Ally is the wife of the Australian deputy Ambassador. She is one of the few wives in the diplomatic world still living in Baghdad during the last days of Saddam Hussein and the threats from GW Bush. Her local secretary, Huda, is forced to report to the secret service all of Ally’s movements. Huda’s husband is unemployed and her teenage son is being groomed by a religious political group seeking to establish a post-Hussein government. Huda’s childhood friend, Rania, was once part of the opposition and her family has lost their old status and riches. Her daughter is targeted by Hussein’s son to be another virgin to be raped. The three women’s stories work well and while this is not a literary gem it is thought provoking in showing the types of threats women and the innocent had to suffer.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Set in Baghdad, Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule, the lives of three women—two Iraqi, Huda and Rania, and one Australian/American, Ally—become dangerously entangled. Why had Ally's mom (who died when Ally was only 5 years old) spent time in Baghdad in her youth, and what secrets was she hiding? How does Ally's search for information about her mom also draw unwanted attention from the regime to Huda and Rania? Will the three women betray each other's trust to help the regime, or remain steadfast Set in Baghdad, Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule, the lives of three women—two Iraqi, Huda and Rania, and one Australian/American, Ally—become dangerously entangled. Why had Ally's mom (who died when Ally was only 5 years old) spent time in Baghdad in her youth, and what secrets was she hiding? How does Ally's search for information about her mom also draw unwanted attention from the regime to Huda and Rania? Will the three women betray each other's trust to help the regime, or remain steadfast and loyal in their friendship? "If we stay loyal to each other, if we trust each other, then maybe we change the patterns of the past." Based on the author's own experience living in Iraq during this time, When the Apricots Bloom was powerful and intense, and I cannot imagine living in 2002 Baghdad, let alone as a woman. Imagine not being able to speak your mind freely because your every move is under surveillance and even your home and cars may be bugged. Now also imagine being forced to divulge your neighbors' secrets or face violent consequences from the regime. "[Ally] thought she was the one with secrets, but she's begun to realize everyone had secrets here, enough to drown in." This was certainly a brutal time and country in which to be born, and this touching debut is one I won't soon forget. "The great poet Rumi said sorrow sweeps everything out of your house violently so that joy has space to enter." Location: 2002 Baghdad, Iraq I received an advance copy of this book from BookishFirst. All opinions are my own.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

    Inspired by Gina Wilkinson’s own experiences as a diplomat’s wife in Iraq, When the Apricots Bloom is a thought-provoking and moving story about loyalty, betrayal, forgiveness, and hope. Set in Baghdad in 2002, the novel unfolds from the perspectives of three women - Ally, the wife of an Australian ambassador; Huda, Ally’s husband’s secretary; and Raina, Huda’s childhood friend. Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq is defined by loss, suspicion, and fear, the mukhabarat lurk everywhere looking for Inspired by Gina Wilkinson’s own experiences as a diplomat’s wife in Iraq, When the Apricots Bloom is a thought-provoking and moving story about loyalty, betrayal, forgiveness, and hope. Set in Baghdad in 2002, the novel unfolds from the perspectives of three women - Ally, the wife of an Australian ambassador; Huda, Ally’s husband’s secretary; and Raina, Huda’s childhood friend. Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq is defined by loss, suspicion, and fear, the mukhabarat lurk everywhere looking for any sign of disloyalty to their ‘great leader’, visiting swift and brutal punishment on anyone who dare to speak against him. Listening devices are used routinely in homes and public spaces, dissidents disappear, or are made examples of. Americans are banned from the country, and representatives of other western countries, particularly women, are barely tolerated. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you? Two can keep a secret only when one of them is dead.” By failing to declare her dual citizenship, and her previous career as a journalist, Ally is in a precarious position that only worsens when she attempts to learn more about her late mother, who thirty years earlier spent time as a nurse in Baghdad. Naive regarding the risks to both herself, her husband, and anyone else she involves in her task, Ally will be forced to make a difficult choice. When ordered by the mukhabarat (secret police) to befriend Ally and learn her secrets, Huda, whose husband is unemployed after the country’s economic collapse, has no other choice but to agree if she is to keep her teenage son safe from being conscripted into the fedayeen (death squad). As the police apply increasing pressure for information, Huda grows desperate, and demands help from Raina, once her closest childhood friend, whom she holds responsible for the execution of her brothers. A sheik’s daughter, now an art dealer, whose family’s wealth and influence has dwindled to almost nothing, Raina is also worried for her daughter’s safety when one of Hussein’s son’s expresses interest in fourteen year old Hanan. She has little to offer Huda, but suggests the two women together can find a way to save their children. “If the blood oath is broken,” she declared theatrically, “then the penalty is sorrow.” “Sorrow for the oath breaker,” she declared, “and for the generation that follows her.” Demonstrating that women the world over will do what they must to protect their children, When the Apricots Bloom explores the circumstances in which Huda, Raina and Ally find themselves in, caught between the past and the future, forced to choose between duty and love. The three main characters of When the Apricots Bloom are well-developed, though it was Huda who I found the most interesting, and whose fate I cared more for. Ally and Raina have protections, and choices, that Huda does not, and as such I considered her the braver of the trio. Huda is forced to walk such a thin line, I felt tense each time she was confronted by the mukhabarat, and my heart was in my throat during the final scenes. Wilkinson’s insights into the daily life of Iraqi citizens under Hussein’s totalitarian rule are fascinating, portraying a country crippled by war, an economy destroyed by sanctions, and a populace oppressed by terror, all contrasting sharply to the glimpses of life in Baghdad before Hussein’s rise to power. Abandoning their country is nevertheless a wrench for the Huda and Raina, and Ally is disappointed to leave without answers to her questions. “In a perfect world, we could wait until the apricots bloom. Alas, the world is not perfect.” Expressive, evocative, and convincingly authentic, I found When the Apricots Bloom to an an absorbing read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jocelyn

    I really enjoyed the premises of this book and I’ve been excited to diversify my reading in 2021. I appreciate that this was based off the author’s experiences, but a white woman writing about the experiences of Iraqi women feels off to me, I think her writing was beautiful but I felt like it was a bit dry at the same time and found it hard to truly connect with the characters. Absolutely loved the title and the cover and the synopsis was also intriguing to me, but overall I found it a bit dry a I really enjoyed the premises of this book and I’ve been excited to diversify my reading in 2021. I appreciate that this was based off the author’s experiences, but a white woman writing about the experiences of Iraqi women feels off to me, I think her writing was beautiful but I felt like it was a bit dry at the same time and found it hard to truly connect with the characters. Absolutely loved the title and the cover and the synopsis was also intriguing to me, but overall I found it a bit dry and I wasn’t truly hooked into this. Many thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kali Cannizzaro

    When the Apricots Bloom by Gina / G.D. Wilkinson This novel focuses on friendships new and old, with a backdrop of modern Iraq and flashbacks of the Iraq of years past. Although from very different backgrounds, Huda and Rania were friends from early childhood and marked by a blood oath they undertook together. Political turmoil and perceived deadly betrayals tore these blood sisters apart and only one thing could ever bring them back together. Drastic times call for the unlikely reunion of two th When the Apricots Bloom by Gina / G.D. Wilkinson This novel focuses on friendships new and old, with a backdrop of modern Iraq and flashbacks of the Iraq of years past. Although from very different backgrounds, Huda and Rania were friends from early childhood and marked by a blood oath they undertook together. Political turmoil and perceived deadly betrayals tore these blood sisters apart and only one thing could ever bring them back together. Drastic times call for the unlikely reunion of two the women who struggle to consider that they could still trust and have loyalty to one another. They are forced to deceive and cooperate with the regime in order to save their children. Their relationship with Ally, a complicated Austrialian diplomat’s wife, becomes very important and the reader sees that anyone can lie in the face of fear and when faced with the opportunity to do what is just. While the reader easily becomes invested in these fascinating characters, it is clear that Iraq herself is another character in this story. She has undergone a transformation that makes her unrecognizable to those that only experienced her past or her present. The reader is left rooting for her to return to her prior glory when the land was lush, society was lively, and her people were much more free. The author’s note is not to be missed and provides a wonderful context to the story, making it even more rich and meaningful. I highly recommend this fast paced female character-driven book!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laura Prindable

    This novel left me speechless. It awakened the ignorance I had for women's life in Iraq whole under Saddam Hussain's rule. Terrifying. Having to watch everything you do. Which is something us Americans take for granted. Today, after reading this book, I am thankful. Thank you #Netgalley for this awesome ARC. This novel left me speechless. It awakened the ignorance I had for women's life in Iraq whole under Saddam Hussain's rule. Terrifying. Having to watch everything you do. Which is something us Americans take for granted. Today, after reading this book, I am thankful. Thank you #Netgalley for this awesome ARC.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mairy

    This is When Apricots Bloom, or when American Dirt meets A Thousand Splendid Suns. This is the story of Huda, Rania and Ally. Huda and Rania are two Iraqi women, former best friends with a heavy past. Ally is the spouse of Australian Deputy Ambassador Tom Wilson. Huda works for the Australian Embassy as a local secretary. The Mukhbarat, the Iraqi secret police, is keeping as close eye on Huda as she is working for foreigners. To stay in control on all citizens, they pressure Huda to become an inf This is When Apricots Bloom, or when American Dirt meets A Thousand Splendid Suns. This is the story of Huda, Rania and Ally. Huda and Rania are two Iraqi women, former best friends with a heavy past. Ally is the spouse of Australian Deputy Ambassador Tom Wilson. Huda works for the Australian Embassy as a local secretary. The Mukhbarat, the Iraqi secret police, is keeping as close eye on Huda as she is working for foreigners. To stay in control on all citizens, they pressure Huda to become an informant and report everything she possible can on Ally. From who calls her to who she has lunch with. She needs to fake a close friendship so Ally can open up to her and start spilling all her secrets. The dangers is that Ally holds a secret which, if discovered, can put her, her diplomat husband and those around her in danger, to include Huda, her husband Abdul Amir and son Khalid. Author Gina Wilkinson has lived in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein regime as well as during the Iraq War. She shares similar traits as Ally and that's what makes this story another-level: even though one cannot fathom living understand such atrocious circumstances (all households had for instance to have a framed photo of Saddam in their living room, front and center next to their wedding photo or their children's portraits to show their support and adoration), those horrific acts of violence and tyranny really happened in the 21st century. I did not like Huda and Rania first -I had issues with their two-faced personality, the lies, the manipulation. I tried to persuade myself that they were doing all this to protect their children, but regardless, I couldn't get rid of the feeling.. until the end.. I cannot spoil the ending and I won't, but it was so good and so badass!! Huda went above and beyond to protect her son Khalid, Rania's daughter Hanan and Ally, my heart swell with pride as a mother to another mother. Powerful! A master of storytelling, Gina Wilkinson surely delivered with When Apricots Bloom. A unusual story of family, motherly love, friendship, sacrifice, search for truths, and life under a dictatorship, And Gina proved that one does not need to be of similar ethnic descent in order to tell a story of a community (or nation in this case). I adored this book!! Thank you Net Galley and Kensington Publishing Corps for this e-ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dana

    Oh... my gosh. This book stole my heart. Somebody said that a good book is when you forget you're reading a BOOK, that you don't actually know these characters. Well I was SO invested each of these characters and their stories were so complex and beautiful. I was engaged from the start, the stories of each of these three women, their pasts, their secrets, were so magnificently portrayed and written. When I read the author's background, it made sense. She had lived in Iraq under Saddam Hussein's Oh... my gosh. This book stole my heart. Somebody said that a good book is when you forget you're reading a BOOK, that you don't actually know these characters. Well I was SO invested each of these characters and their stories were so complex and beautiful. I was engaged from the start, the stories of each of these three women, their pasts, their secrets, were so magnificently portrayed and written. When I read the author's background, it made sense. She had lived in Iraq under Saddam Hussein's rule for many years and the stories in this book were inspired by her own experiences. She had complex feelings about loyalty and friendship and what people do in a regime like this, and that was all put to paper in this book. It made so much sense that this book felt so honest, so messy, so real, because Wilkinson was writing from her own experiences and own admirations and fears. I was truly stunned by how beautiful the writing was. The imagery was marvelous and the way all of these stories became further intertwined throughout the book was done so perfectly. I feared a book about Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule written by someone who was not Iraqi would be... questionable. I feared it would portray things in simplifications, in extremes. But personally (granted, as someone who has minimal knowledge and zero experience), I thought it was done so beautifully. It focused on these three REAL women doing their best to survive and protect their families during a ruthless dictatorship. I am looking forward to seeing more thoughts on this book when it releases and hearing the thoughts of people who have more experience in this world than I do.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    I think When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson will probably be my favorite book of 2021. Much like The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, gave me a brilliant look and feel of Afghanistan, When the Apricots Bloom gave me a look into the lives of two Iraqi women Rania and Huda who swore a blood oath as children but something separated them. Most of the story takes place in 2002 in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The third woman, Ally who is the young wife of Tom who is an Australian deputy ambassador is s I think When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson will probably be my favorite book of 2021. Much like The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, gave me a brilliant look and feel of Afghanistan, When the Apricots Bloom gave me a look into the lives of two Iraqi women Rania and Huda who swore a blood oath as children but something separated them. Most of the story takes place in 2002 in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The third woman, Ally who is the young wife of Tom who is an Australian deputy ambassador is searching to find out more about her dead mother’s past in Iraq. I loved he author’s portrayal of her. Who can each of these three women trust? The Mukhabaret, the secret police, are pressuring Huda who is Tom’s secretary to give them information about Ally. Rania is struggling to make ends meet after losing the money her father, a sheik had when he was alive. Wilkinson’s writing made me feel that I was walking along side each of these characters in the story. There were some very tense times. I plan on asking my bookclub to read this amazing story. I think the discussion will be fantastic. Thank you Kensington and Bookishfirst for an ARC of this book. The opinions in this review are my own.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mallory

    This book was hard to read, but not because of the writing (which was excellent) but because it is about a time period and place that did not reflect particularly well on humanity. The author wrote this story based on her own experiences while in Iraq as a foreigner during Saddam Hussein. This is the story of Ally, an Australian diplomat’s wife, who is in Iraq with a lot of secrets and unaware how dangerous there are. She is befriended by an embassy secretary, Huda, who is forced to be an inform This book was hard to read, but not because of the writing (which was excellent) but because it is about a time period and place that did not reflect particularly well on humanity. The author wrote this story based on her own experiences while in Iraq as a foreigner during Saddam Hussein. This is the story of Ally, an Australian diplomat’s wife, who is in Iraq with a lot of secrets and unaware how dangerous there are. She is befriended by an embassy secretary, Huda, who is forced to be an informant on Ally for the secret police. And Huda’s oldest friend Raina, even though that friendship is quite fractured from the years. Raina is a widow trying to make a living and trying to avoid attention from Saddam Hussein and his son Uday, who is very interested in Raina and her daughter. This book was full of dangerous and difficult moral choices. Would you betray someone if it meant your child was not conscripted into an army where soldiers are made through torture? What would you risk to save those you love? I am very grateful to BookishFirst, the publisher, and author for my copy of this book. I know this is a story that will be staying with me.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Published 2021 I know I’m in the minority here, but I was never truly hooked by this one. It was a slow start, and then I would find myself very into it, then struggling. I enjoyed reading of the Saddam Hussein regime. I can’t imagine living in Iraq at that time.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (JC-S)

    ‘In a perfect world, we could wait until the apricots bloom. Alas, the world is not perfect.’ Set in Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein, this novel is told through the eyes of three quite different women. Ally, wife of an Australian diplomat (a ‘dependent spouse’), has accompanied her husband on posting to Baghdad. Ally has her own reasons for wanting to be in Baghdad. Huda, a secretary at the Australian Embassy in Baghdad, is ordered by the mukhabarat to befriend Ally. Huda does not want t ‘In a perfect world, we could wait until the apricots bloom. Alas, the world is not perfect.’ Set in Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein, this novel is told through the eyes of three quite different women. Ally, wife of an Australian diplomat (a ‘dependent spouse’), has accompanied her husband on posting to Baghdad. Ally has her own reasons for wanting to be in Baghdad. Huda, a secretary at the Australian Embassy in Baghdad, is ordered by the mukhabarat to befriend Ally. Huda does not want to be an informant for the secret police but must think of her family. Her husband is bitter and unemployed, and her teenaged son is of an age where he could be forced to join the militia. Rania, a childhood friend of Huda’s, grew up in a life of privilege as the daughter of a sheikh. Both privilege and money are long gone, and Rania is an artist, struggling to look after her teenaged daughter. Three different women brought together by circumstance. Ally is trying to find information about people from the past, an activity which is viewed with suspicion and is highly dangerous. Huda will do almost anything to protect her son and calls on Rania for help. ‘Didn’t anyone ever teach you? Two can keep a secret only when one of them is dead.’ This novel was inspired by Ms Wilkinson’s own experiences in Iraq, and makes it clear how difficult and challenging life could be for many (and particularly women) in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Difficult choices need to be made by each of the women to protect their family members and to survive. And who can they trust? Each woman’s story is difficult and heartbreaking in its own way. As I read, I wondered what choices I might make in their situations. A thought-provoking debut novel. Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. Jennifer Cameron-Smith

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dora Okeyo

    I saw this book on Netgalley and I had to request the publisher to read it because I was drawn to two things on the blurb: the fact that it’s set in Iraq during Saddam’s reign and the second aspect involved three different women. I asked myself what could a secretary, an artist and a diplomat’s wife have in common? The story delves into the need for control by Saddam’s government, enforcing rules and corrupt police officers who demand that people do as they ask and if they do not, someone close t I saw this book on Netgalley and I had to request the publisher to read it because I was drawn to two things on the blurb: the fact that it’s set in Iraq during Saddam’s reign and the second aspect involved three different women. I asked myself what could a secretary, an artist and a diplomat’s wife have in common? The story delves into the need for control by Saddam’s government, enforcing rules and corrupt police officers who demand that people do as they ask and if they do not, someone close to them or simply the people themselves disappear. The diplomats are also spied on by the Iraqis and the police visit anytime to glean information from the Iraqi spies- mostly in their homes, reminding them of the hold they have on them. As the story begins, the author introduces us to both Huda and Rania, as young girls who take a blood oath to always protect each other’s secrets. As the story unravels, Huda comes off as the one who would go to any lengths to protect her family, including blackmailing her former childhood friend, Rania, and it does not help that she is also working for the police as an informant- giving details of Ally’s life. In reading this book, Huda was ice cold towards Rania and you could not help but wish that she could take a step back and soften towards her friend. Rania on the other hand is the artist, both wise and calm and she knows when to push and when to refrain. What I found oddly satisfying was that both women had suffered the loss of their loved ones at the turn of Saddam’s reign, yet their approach towards this loss was utterly different. Rania was warm towards people while Huda was aloof. Her words could slice you open. Ally, the diplomat’s wife, is noted as ‘housewife’ on her Australian passport- but her coming to Baghdad is not just to support her husband, Tom, but it’s to find out about her mother- a child’s last hope of trying to put together the pieces of her mother’s life. She starts asking questions and soon learns that in a dictatorship, your words could make you or kill you, literally. The story of these three women is both nostalgic as it is heartbreaking and it reminded me of the countless number of lives that are affected in war-torn countries, countries facing civil unrest, and more so dictatorships. This book is also beautifully written that you cannot help but urge Huda, Rania and Ally on, in their quest and their friendship.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Leesa Hanna

    I downloaded the free Sample pages from Amazon and I am so intrigued by the first chapters of this book. Insight into the intimate lives of families manoeuvring themselves for survival in a frightening world of dictator rule has me hooked. The settings are rich with colours and smells of the Middle East. I can’t wait for the full book to be released so I can keep reading. I’ve pre-ordered!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lynne

    I really enjoyed this book that takes place in Iraq in the early 2000. The story, the characters, and the writing was definitely worth the read. The violence was unsettling and some of the suspense seemed manufactured. However there were some beautiful sentences and original analogies that I highlighted. Thank you NetGalley for the ARC.

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