BOMB reviews Poppies of Iraq

“Fall Books Preview” / BOMB / Kristen Radtke / August 4, 2017

I'll read anything the inimitable graphic indie Drawn & Quarterly publishes, and Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim's Poppies of Iraq is a favorite of 2017. The book is constructed as a public and private history of Findakly's upbringing in Iraq, told in vignette-like bursts, such as when Findakly's father, an altruistic dentist who treats many patients for free and is often behind on his taxes, gives her mother a gun after the government's overthrow in 1958 (frightened, she promptly buries it in the garden).

When President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and Vice President Saddam Hussein nationalize Iraqi oil in the early 70s, students are instructed to draw a picture about the oil crisis that followed. The young Findakly drew an oil rig swathed by people holding a banner that read, "Arab oil for Arabs." The drawing was chosen as the only to hang publicly in the school. "If my family had stayed in Iraq, I might have become a famous propaganda artist for Saddam Hussein's regime," she writes atop a drawing of Saddam in sunglasses holding a machine gun to the sky, a line of flames behind him.

Drawings take on dreamy qualities during fondly recalled memories, like the watery blues that fill her childhood bedroom, chestnuts sitting on her nightstand that her father had roasted and left for her to find in the morning; or the the deep, burnt orange of a remembered sandstorm.

Above all, Poppies of Iraq is a beautiful portrait of a life lived in cultural translation, its pages filled with humor and a nostalgia made complicated with age.

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