East Winds, West Winds by Mahdi Issa al-Saqr

East Winds, West Winds

Mahdi Issa al-Saqr

The first half is written through the eyes of a bookish translator working in the camps of the oil wells in Iraq. The second, which I much preferred, focuses on the British managers and Iraqi engineers living in a 1950s' bubble of cocktail parties and extramarital affairs. The narrative slips from first to second person, but it repays perseverance as the Iraqi desert looms beautifully against the stark hardships and conflicts within the camp.

When I got out of the car in al-Ashar, the sun's rays were painting the mountain peaks and coloring the treetops. The air had become a little cooler (or 'broken' as they say here) before sunset. I was happy. Little things make you happy. Being away from the bother of work and the irritations of camp life for a bit; reaching Basra before evening; and cooler air, for example. You were happy then. You didn't know then, of course, that when you got back to the camp after your break you would receive some dreadful news that would bring you a lengthy period of sadness - a sadness that would from time to time suddenly return to you like a slap in the face.
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