“She knew it was a time of war, but she couldn’t see why they had to destroy everything that blooms by making the rivers run dry.”
—From the Old Woman and the River
This gentle story about the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War is based on the author’s investigations into an unexpected patch of greenery amid desolation in postwar southeastern Iraq . The source, he discovered, was an unconventional war hero, Um Qasem, an elderly widow whose relentless nurturing revitalized her war-torn village, Sabaliyat. For real. Taking literary license, Ismail creates a world in tune with the loveable granny determined to preserve life. Her beloved donkey anticipates when she needs a ride or help clearing bomb shells. Homesick soldiers, charmed by her grand appeal, turn a blind eye to her restoration efforts despite evacuation orders. And finally, her late husband’s ghost guides her to unleash the mighty Shatt al-Arab water into Shabaliyat’s parched, smaller rivers and fields, along Iraq’s eastern border. Ironically, this story about war’s absurdity is charming and hopeful, and a refreshing celebration of the largely unrecognized heroes of war, the widows and mothers left to pick up the pieces.