Review: The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi

BAGHDADBaghdad, 1991. In the midst of the first Gulf War, a young Iraqi girl huddles with her neighbours in an air raid shelter. There, she meets Nadia. The two girls quickly become best friends and together they imagine a world not torn apart by civil war, sharing their dreams, their hopes and their desires, and their first loves. But as they grow older and the bombs continue to fall, the international sanctions bite and friends begin to flee the country, the girls must face the fact that their lives will never be the same again.

This poignant debut novel will spirit readers away to a world they know only from the television, revealing just what it is like to grow up in a city that is slowly disappearing in front of your eyes, and showing how in the toughest times, children can build up the greatest resilience.


Can you imagine what it would be like if war broke out in your country? Imagine how your life would change. Think about what it would be like to watch neighbors disappear, buildings go up in smoke and armed soldiers start patrolling your streets. Sounds like a nightmare, right? However, this is a reality for many people around the world. In this story, we get to see the impact of war on the lives of residents of a small neighborhood in Baghdad.

I don’t think that I got to find out the name of the narrator. However, readers get to know that she is a young Iraqi girl. She introduces us to her neighborhood during the first Gulf War in 1991. Through her narration, we get to meet other residents of the town. Characters that stood out for me include Nadia, Ahmed, Uncle Shakwat, Biryad and Farouq. The narrator tells us a little about each of them and their lives. Their personalities were all so well developed that they come alive through the story. I found myself thinking of them like real people. You know how you get to know a character so well that you know what is and isn’t something they would do?

Life in Baghdad when there was peace was so beautiful despite the international sanctions. I enjoyed reading about the girls, their dreams for the future and life experiences. I couldn’t stop smiling when they first met boys that they liked. I loved all their adventures, their night escapades visiting the Baghdad clock, the dancing and description of Nadia’s love for the rain. I was enchanted by it all and so when the war came, I was also devastated by how it touched their lives, leaving havoc in its wake.

This wasn’t an easy read. The narrative uses different stylistic devices. I think what I liked most was personification of Biryad, the neighborhood’s popular dog. I am yet to read another book where a pet is so well developed as a character. I mean, I can still visualize the dog dancing at weddings. There were also instances where fantasy was used in the storytelling. Metaphors like the sinking ship depicting the destroyed city were also used in building the narrative. The story had a lot of cultural nuances like soothsayers were used to foretell oncoming changes. Dreams and reality were also interspersed throughout the story. I struggled through the first chapters but after that, I really appreciated the writing and how poetic it was.

This was a wonderful, well-written, thought provoking read. It was heartbreaking at the same time. I have no doubt that these characters and story will stay with me for long. Having read this book, I now really want to read A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The MC kept referring to this book in a way that made me curious enough to push it up my TBR. If you are looking for a coming of age story, well-written, thought provoking literary fiction then The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi is the book that you need to read.