The Orange Trees of Baghdad:
in search of my lost family
a memoir by Leilah Nadir
with photos by Farah Nosh
Hardcover: 328 pages
Publisher: Key Porter Books; 1st edition
(Sep 12th 2007)
Book Club Reading Guide
1.In The Orange Trees of Baghdad, author Leilah Nadir opens the Introduction with a quote from her father, describing the garden at the back of the family home in Iraq. Discuss the significance and symbolism of the garden. How does it tie into the author’s choice of title? What is the significance of the garden imagery in both the opening paragraph and the title of the book?
2.The first character Nadir introduces the reader to is her father, Ibrahim, who represents her Iraqi roots. Discuss the complex relationship between fathers and daughters both in the book and in your own lives.
3.Ibrahim is a fascinating and influential person in Leilah’s life. What do you think his character represents? Why do you think he cut himself off from his country and his family?
4.In Chapter One, Nadir discusses her Iraqi-English heritage. What do you think she means when she says, “To look at me is to look at both aggressor and victim”? Do you agree or disagree with that statement?
5.Leilah Nadir introduces us to her Christian family and their middle-class life that continued for generations before the current war. How has this book changed your ideas about the nature of Iraqi people?
6.The Orange Trees of Baghdad is filled with strong female characters, particularly Leilah’s three aunts living in London: Amal, Ibtisam, and Siham. Nadir’s grandfather called them “The Three Graces,“ who represent charm, beauty and happiness. What did each represent for you?
7.Nadir’s great-aunt Lina became the self-appointed protectorate of the family’s home in Iraq, which is still filled with clothing, photographs, and even some of Ibrahim’s childhood art. Lina had a chance to escape to England, but decided to return during the Gulf War in 1991. Discuss Lina’s character and her symbolic significance for the family and for you.
8.In Chapter Six, Pieces of Civilization, the author takes a tour through the British Museum, viewing what’s been preserved of ancient Middle Eastern history. Nadir ends the chapter with the statement: “The destruction of the National Museum [in Baghdad during the 2003 invasion] was an affront to all Iraqis, who saw it as a wanton attack on their shared history, almost foreshadowing the political disintegration of their country. Deprived of the symbols of their cultural unity, Iraqis could be more easily coerced into other alliances, whether religious, ethnic or political.” Do you agree or disagree with the author’s observations?
9.The theme of exile is predominant in the book. What are the significant issues of life in exile? Is exile more about the loss of a homeland or about gaining a newfound freedom?
10.The author notes that “One in five Iraqis does not live in Iraq.” Since the current war began, that number has multiplied. How has exile affected the author? Her aunts in London? Why do you think Karim’s family has not chosen exile rather than enduring the war?
11.What did you learn through Nadir’s cousin Karim and his wife Maha, both of whom continue to live in Iraq?
12.What did you learn through Nadir’s friend, photographer Farah Nosh?
13.What did you learn through the three different perspectives in the book: the civilians, the photojournalist, and the Iraqi diaspora? How do their perspectives differ from what you read in the news?
14.Discuss the theme of identity in the book. Did you relate to the author’s struggle in search of her own personal identity?
15.How has The Orange Trees of Baghdad affected your view of the on-going war in Iraq?