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Informed by firsthand experience on the battlefronts of Iraq and Syria, Abdoh captures the horror, confusion, and absurdity of combat from a seldom-glimpsed perspective that expands our understanding of the war novel. Saleh, the narrator of Out of Mesopotamia, is a middle-aged Iranian journalist who moonlights as a writer for one of Iran’s most popular TV shows but cannot k Informed by firsthand experience on the battlefronts of Iraq and Syria, Abdoh captures the horror, confusion, and absurdity of combat from a seldom-glimpsed perspective that expands our understanding of the war novel. Saleh, the narrator of Out of Mesopotamia, is a middle-aged Iranian journalist who moonlights as a writer for one of Iran’s most popular TV shows but cannot keep himself away from the front lines in neighboring Iraq and Syria. There, the fight against the Islamic State is a proxy war, an existential battle, a declaration of faith, and, for some, a passing weekend affair. After weeks spent dodging RPGs, witnessing acts of savagery and stupidity, Saleh returns to civilian life in Tehran but finds it to be an unbearably dislocating experience. Pursued by his official handler from state security, opportunistic colleagues, and the woman who broke his heart, Saleh has reason to again flee from everyday life. Surrounded by men whose willingness to achieve martyrdom both fascinates and appalls him, Saleh struggles to make sense of himself and the turmoil in his midst. An unprecedented glimpse into “endless war” from a Middle Eastern perspective, Out of Mesopotamia follows in the tradition of the Western canon of martial writers--from Hemingway and Orwell to Tim O’Brien and Philip Caputo--but then subverts and expands upon the genre before completely blowing it apart. Drawing from his firsthand experience of being embedded with Shia militias on the ground in Iraq and Syria, Abdoh gives agency to the voiceless while offering a meditation on war that is moving, humane, darkly funny, and resonantly true.


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Informed by firsthand experience on the battlefronts of Iraq and Syria, Abdoh captures the horror, confusion, and absurdity of combat from a seldom-glimpsed perspective that expands our understanding of the war novel. Saleh, the narrator of Out of Mesopotamia, is a middle-aged Iranian journalist who moonlights as a writer for one of Iran’s most popular TV shows but cannot k Informed by firsthand experience on the battlefronts of Iraq and Syria, Abdoh captures the horror, confusion, and absurdity of combat from a seldom-glimpsed perspective that expands our understanding of the war novel. Saleh, the narrator of Out of Mesopotamia, is a middle-aged Iranian journalist who moonlights as a writer for one of Iran’s most popular TV shows but cannot keep himself away from the front lines in neighboring Iraq and Syria. There, the fight against the Islamic State is a proxy war, an existential battle, a declaration of faith, and, for some, a passing weekend affair. After weeks spent dodging RPGs, witnessing acts of savagery and stupidity, Saleh returns to civilian life in Tehran but finds it to be an unbearably dislocating experience. Pursued by his official handler from state security, opportunistic colleagues, and the woman who broke his heart, Saleh has reason to again flee from everyday life. Surrounded by men whose willingness to achieve martyrdom both fascinates and appalls him, Saleh struggles to make sense of himself and the turmoil in his midst. An unprecedented glimpse into “endless war” from a Middle Eastern perspective, Out of Mesopotamia follows in the tradition of the Western canon of martial writers--from Hemingway and Orwell to Tim O’Brien and Philip Caputo--but then subverts and expands upon the genre before completely blowing it apart. Drawing from his firsthand experience of being embedded with Shia militias on the ground in Iraq and Syria, Abdoh gives agency to the voiceless while offering a meditation on war that is moving, humane, darkly funny, and resonantly true.

30 review for Out of Mesopotamia

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tonstant Weader

    Out of Mesopotamia is one of those rare books that I know I will read again and again. The prose is beautiful, the emotions raw and authentic in their confusion and contradiction. It is everything a true war story must be, contradictory, confusing, and full of love. Saleh is a writer in Tehran who is officially an art critic, reluctantly a plot writer for the most popular TV series, and inexorably a war chronicler on the Iraqi and Syrian fronts against ISIS. He has served as a war correspondent i Out of Mesopotamia is one of those rare books that I know I will read again and again. The prose is beautiful, the emotions raw and authentic in their confusion and contradiction. It is everything a true war story must be, contradictory, confusing, and full of love. Saleh is a writer in Tehran who is officially an art critic, reluctantly a plot writer for the most popular TV series, and inexorably a war chronicler on the Iraqi and Syrian fronts against ISIS. He has served as a war correspondent in the past, but this time he is there cooking for the soldiers and editing the journals and notes of the martyrs. The official censor/interrogator assigns him a task on the front, to search for a martyr who may be still alive. People are always asking him to do things, to write reviews, to go to the front, to take someone else to the front, to help them live and die. And he, he doesn’t know exactly what he wants other than to be at the front where life seems to have something ineffable, nothing so rich as meaning or purpose, but perhaps urgency. We hear so little from the people actually fighting ISIS. From the Iranians with whom we are loosely allied in the battle against the Islamic State, we hear even less. Even if this were not such an excellent book, it would bring us a fresh perspective on an important war. But it is excellent in every way a book can be. Well written with an intriguing plot and big ideas. Early in the book, the author references Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried though not by name, paraphrasing from How to Tell a True War Story, one of the stories in that collection. By calling in Tim O’Brien, Abdoh invites comparison, a bold thing to do. The Things They Carried is one of those books that will still be read and admired in a hundred years. Reading, I saw several references to O’Brien’s work. When his interrogator H sends him to look for Proust, I thought of Going After Cacciato” and even Paris plays the same role as a refuge. There is a death that immediately brought to mind the death of Curt Lemon, told and retold in story after story. There even is the same discontinuity of time from chapter to chapter. To say I loved Out of Mesopotamia is an understatement. I know it is a book I will treasure because it says more in its few pages than most books five times its size. Out of Mesopotamia will be released on September 1st. I received an ARC from the publisher through LibraryThing. Out of Mesopotamia at Akashic Books Salar Abdoh Faculty Page https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpre...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bandit

    The library lately has been all too eager to accommodate international reading, albeit conditionally, certain locations more than others. This one was geopolitically unmissable, a firsthand experience inspired first person account of the neverending war in the region from a Middle eastern perspective. Our narrator, an Iranian learned man, a journalist, a sometimes TV writer, not a typical soldier material at all, and yet finds himself time and again amidst not just some of the worst fighting, bu The library lately has been all too eager to accommodate international reading, albeit conditionally, certain locations more than others. This one was geopolitically unmissable, a firsthand experience inspired first person account of the neverending war in the region from a Middle eastern perspective. Our narrator, an Iranian learned man, a journalist, a sometimes TV writer, not a typical soldier material at all, and yet finds himself time and again amidst not just some of the worst fighting, but also some of the strangest quiet interludes of the war in Iraq and Syria. Because he is so categorically not a man of war by nature, the book provides the most singular perspective on war itself, the tedium and absurdity of it, the surreal quality, the people who find themselves fighting or just in the areas and the reasons why. It’s quite unlike any sort of a traditional war narrative, in fact it’s quite unlike the sort of thing you’d expect from an Iranian book, for one thing it’s radically critical of the conflict. No surprise that then author, just like the other Iranian author I’ve read before, is living abroad, at least some of the time. Distance in this case good for both perspective and safety. But what a book this was, short, but certainly not light in any other way and yet very compelling in it own way. Darkly humorous in a very unexpected way, the narrator’s ability to tumble through one horrifying scenario after another with a sort of amused bewilderment, especially when it comes to all the politics of martyrdom. This book amplifies the downtime of fighting, gives voice to the silences and silent and the silenced, it presents the war (this war, maybe any war) as an absurdity, a sort of fundamental failure of reason. For this alone, the book is worth a read. Such an original perspective. Plus it is well written and oddly dynamic, featuring a diverse cast of idiosyncratic characters. A great chronicle of terrible times. First rate tragicomic dramatic literary fiction.Recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Troy Hill

    A thrilling read with surprising depth told through the impaired but insightful eyes of an eternal outsider, Out of Mesopotamia is an illuminating and gripping war novel with a reality built on journalistic detail and with the imagination and craft of fiction. The way that Remembrance of Things Past threads through this story works seamlessly and speaks to the broad scope of this novel, its theme of crashing cultures, and the absurdities and miraculous beauty of a war zone. The hunger for the ba A thrilling read with surprising depth told through the impaired but insightful eyes of an eternal outsider, Out of Mesopotamia is an illuminating and gripping war novel with a reality built on journalistic detail and with the imagination and craft of fiction. The way that Remembrance of Things Past threads through this story works seamlessly and speaks to the broad scope of this novel, its theme of crashing cultures, and the absurdities and miraculous beauty of a war zone. The hunger for the battlefield for the men and women who fight, serve, and die in Syria and Iraq in this book is palpable and contrasts sharply with the hypocrisy, backbiting, and anxiety of peacetime in Tehran. But no one here gets the luxury of submerging completely in any one passion or environment, and the theme of crashing cultures is captured in the narrator's thought, "I do not know how many worlds a person can live simultaneously before they lose themselves completely." Heroes and tragedies, martyrdom, TV melodrama, news reporting, and social media mix on the page, revealing the spin that mediates between reality and its presentation in both the US and Iran. Meanwhile, characters from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, France, and the US fill the pages, delivering a global perspective that sheds light on corruption as well as the potential for human connection.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    An oddly appealing little book. Although it is purportedly the tale of an Iranian journalist embedded with a unit fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq, it is really a comic novel about contemporary life in Iran and the struggles of an intellectually-inclined writer in a chaotic and unsympathetic environment. The book is not about Iranian politics, though it is politics that shapes every moment of his life. His "minder," the intelligence official who maintains contact with him to insure he doesn't wan An oddly appealing little book. Although it is purportedly the tale of an Iranian journalist embedded with a unit fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq, it is really a comic novel about contemporary life in Iran and the struggles of an intellectually-inclined writer in a chaotic and unsympathetic environment. The book is not about Iranian politics, though it is politics that shapes every moment of his life. His "minder," the intelligence official who maintains contact with him to insure he doesn't wander far from the approved political path, is not a particularly fearsome character and at points morphs into a kind of muse, sharing philosophically ambiguous snatches from Proust. For anyone who knows the Iranian fascination with philosophy, this is not as far-fetched as it might appear. In fact, the reactions of the protagonist to the twists and turns of fate, as well as those of his companions, is a sort of genial primer about life in today's Iran. That is not surprising since the author is himself Iranian and divides his time between Iran and teaching classes at NYU. The story casually reveals a life of art and literature going on beneath the surface of an Iran where everyone has to scramble and make compromises just to survive. This is a marvelous antidote to the cartoonish images of Iran spouted by the US government and much of the media. Here, that alternative reality is presented by a likable character who approaches his complicated life with a sardonic grin and not a whiff of self-pity.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sanjida

    This short novel borrows its style from the existentialist character meanderings of a Camus, or Faulkner (or Proust?). But it's all it's own thing, an instant classic about the recent conflicts against a group known only as "the enemy" in Syria and Iraq, told through the perspective of Iranian writer, correspondent, fighter and would-be martyr, romantic, and coward. This short novel borrows its style from the existentialist character meanderings of a Camus, or Faulkner (or Proust?). But it's all it's own thing, an instant classic about the recent conflicts against a group known only as "the enemy" in Syria and Iraq, told through the perspective of Iranian writer, correspondent, fighter and would-be martyr, romantic, and coward.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Liza

    Got to page 205 before acknowledging to myself that I just didn’t care about this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Aryn

    The unrelenting war in the Middle East, spurred by the United States’ War on Terror, is rapidly approaching the two decade mark. Out of Mesopotamia takes readers to Iran and the war zones of Iraq and Syria with Saleh, an Iranian journalist. Normally an art critic and writer for a state-sponsored television drama about a heroic sniper, Saleh has embedded with various militias, serving as a war journalist. Saleh doesn’t want to die at the front, but he also cannot help wanting to go back. Returnin The unrelenting war in the Middle East, spurred by the United States’ War on Terror, is rapidly approaching the two decade mark. Out of Mesopotamia takes readers to Iran and the war zones of Iraq and Syria with Saleh, an Iranian journalist. Normally an art critic and writer for a state-sponsored television drama about a heroic sniper, Saleh has embedded with various militias, serving as a war journalist. Saleh doesn’t want to die at the front, but he also cannot help wanting to go back. Returning to everyday life where political machinations and family matters dominate after time at the front is jarring and in many ways seems trivial, but when he gets back to the front, things don’t make any more sense or have much more meaning than they did back in Tehran. Reader beware: the page count may be low, but this is a very dense book. The opening of the novel firmly established the tone of the rest of the book, but at the expense of the plot. Even once the plot gets going, there’s something about the tone and style that makes Saleh’s emotions seem flat for the majority of the book, as if he’s managed to remove himself from his own story and is reporting on his life as an outsider. This is an excellent choice for book groups that want to really tear into a book’s symbolism and structure, readers with more of an interest in narrative may want to look elsewhere. I received a copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christina_lambert

    While I’m sure some would appreciate the opportunity to understand both the cultural of war and more specifically of martyrdom among Arab men...I found this book hard to read. It read like it was written with more formal English, making the reading tiresome, and the story order was jumbled in a way I couldn’t always follow. I also never felt any empathy or understanding for any of the characters. So while I do feel like I took a few things away from this book from a pure sociological standpoint, While I’m sure some would appreciate the opportunity to understand both the cultural of war and more specifically of martyrdom among Arab men...I found this book hard to read. It read like it was written with more formal English, making the reading tiresome, and the story order was jumbled in a way I couldn’t always follow. I also never felt any empathy or understanding for any of the characters. So while I do feel like I took a few things away from this book from a pure sociological standpoint, reading it was a chore.

  9. 4 out of 5

    litost

    A black comedy written by an Iranian author. I felt at a disadvantage as I did not have the necessary context. I did not know about the Iranian Defenders of Holy Places who fought to protect Shia shrines in Iraq against the Islamic State. Though the war is the least of it. The cynical protagonist, who I enjoyed, uses the war as an escape from the State which controls his life; he is freer in the war-zone - though mostly free to die. An interesting novel.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Weaver

    A journalist’s view of his life and the war against ISIS pivoting to the front lines in Syria and back to Tehran. I didn’t find his story and perspectives as compelling as I would have liked as a cynical (about the war, about Iran, about his future) journalist. But an interesting view into what drives voluntary participation in a brutal war

  11. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    Really fascinating look at art, war and the melding of both

  12. 5 out of 5

    Penelope

    Darkly funny and fascinating picture of the absurdity of war.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    When was the last time you read a book that tells you the story of the Middle East wars from the non- western point of view? When was the last time the characters "from the other side" were not cutouts but real people? When was the last time you thought of why they fight instead of assuming that they are just "brainwashed by the propaganda"? When was the last time "the other side" was given "agency"? I am not sure I ever have read a novel that does all that. Non-fiction, yes, but not fiction. "Ou When was the last time you read a book that tells you the story of the Middle East wars from the non- western point of view? When was the last time the characters "from the other side" were not cutouts but real people? When was the last time you thought of why they fight instead of assuming that they are just "brainwashed by the propaganda"? When was the last time "the other side" was given "agency"? I am not sure I ever have read a novel that does all that. Non-fiction, yes, but not fiction. "Out of Mesopotamia" does all that. I am not sure that I loved it; I will have to re-read to think more about it, but it was worth my time.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ali Fatolahi

  16. 4 out of 5

    Deroit12

  17. 5 out of 5

    Camajo2

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laurel

  19. 5 out of 5

    Locrya10

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bernadette

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gagaja10

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ross

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jenni Earll

  25. 4 out of 5

    Esseje10

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

  27. 4 out of 5

    Denise

  28. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  29. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

  30. 5 out of 5

    Hareed10

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