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The Watermelon Boys

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  67 ratings  ·  20 reviews
*** Betty Trask Award 2019 winner ***

It is the winter of 1915 and Iraq has been engulfed by the First World War. Hungry for independence from Ottoman rule, Ahmad leaves his peaceful family life on the banks of the Tigris to join the British-led revolt. Thousands of miles away, Welsh teenager Carwyn reluctantly enlists and is sent, via Gallipoli and Egypt, to the Mesopotami
Paperback, 264 pages
Published August 30th 2018 by Hoopoe Fiction
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Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
THE WATERMELON BOYS by Ruqaya Izzidien was a solid 4⭐️ read for me. Izzidien’s novel is largely set in Iraq during WWI; during this time Iraq transitions from Ottoman to British rule aided by the latter’s deception of Iraqis. Two of the main perspectives in this story are Ahmad, a Baghdadi family man who wants to liberate his country, and Carwyn, a young Welsh boy who is forced to enlist and fight for the British. Yusuf, Ahmad’s son, is one of the “Watermelon Boys”; his story is set on the outsk ...more
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
"The present is an arrogant time in which to live, always has been. Humans of the present look back at their people, land, and history, and whisper to themselves with glee, We are not them. But we were always them. We are our history; we are the crimes of our ancestors. And we wait, mouths agape, to hear tales of hope, as though good could triumph in such a world.
But every century, every desperate land, every present, has its own moment of optimism, an instant in which its people are so sure, j
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
Bailed at the 40% mark. Occasional glimpses of literary merit, but read much more like genre historical fiction than literary fiction and I just wasn’t invested enough to finish.
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The postscript to this novel is a quote from 2003 in which a commander in the the fourth infantry division says " You have to understand the Arab mind. The only thing they understand is force-force, pride and saving face". The opening sentence of the book tells us that 'the present is an arrogant time in which to live, always has been '. Those two quotes define the importance of this historical novel, and remind me as a reader why fiction has such power to allow us to reflect upon the impact upo ...more
Eileen Charbonneau
Dec 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This extraordinary debut novel travels from 1915 to 1920 as World War I rages not only in Europe but in the Middle East. On the banks of the Tigris outside Baghdad, Ahmad is a devout family man who is also a warrior. The British have promised to liberate his countrymen from Ottoman rule. He joins the revolt. The battle is triumphant and Ahmad returns to his wife, daughter and two boatmen sons (the watermelon boys of the title). But soon he realizes that the trials of their separations, flooding ...more
Susan Lanigan
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
The recent shenanigans over red paint being thrown over a war memorial soldier made out of scraps of tin in St Stephen's Green, Dublin, highlight how much pearl-clutching is still happening over memorialising WWI. To my mind, it's unedifying to wring one's hands over paint on a statue when WWI was an unrelenting, unrestrained, bloody, horrific, unnecessary sh*tshow from start to finish. This desire to sanitise, make decent, something that is indecent both in conception and execution - I don't un ...more
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Set between Iraq and Wales, The Watermelon Boys is a novel that explores man's quest for purpose and self-determination when the drivers of war are dead set against you. Its central male protagonists share a journey of overwhelming guilt and loss, while tender stories of love sit only on the outskirts of the story. 
Ruqaya Izzidien's re-imagining of Baghdad and life on the Tigris are beautifully evocative, while scenes of violence are described in painful detail - something I didn't expect when I
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There is so very much to say about this book. But I will tell you this. I. LOVED. IT. It is worth 10 🌟 if you buy it, not a single penny will be wasted. It is based in First World War Iraq in 1915 and tells the tale of two families during this time, as well as a Welsh soldier. The characters are explored in such a way that as we dive into the Winter of 1915 from the very first pages, we can’t help but feel as if we have known the families their entire lives. Their suffering in the war as the Bri ...more
arkadi cloud
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The 11th book in my reading challenge this year.

My review:
Mar 30, 2019 rated it liked it
I thought this was a modest attempt to reinscribe a personal, Iraqi perspective(s) narrative into the master narrative of the British Occupation. The author has done a good job on basing the fiction on historical documents, political statements and the diary of a Welsh soldier (inspiring Carwyn’s character).

This book is primarily based in Baghdad, so its portrayal of the Occupation is heavily through a Baghdadi lens. In that way, I wouldn’t take this book to be re-writing a narrative that is re
Amanda Mouttaki
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I never read historical fiction from this time but loved this book. The characters were great. The story one i had little knowledge or experience with. If you haven’t read much around WWI than this is a must.
Jan 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The present is an arrogant time in which to live, always has been. Humans of the present look back at their people, land, and history, and whisper to themselves with glee, We are not them. But we were always them. We are our history; we are the crimes of our ancestors. And we wait, mouths agape, to hear tales of hope, as though good could triumph in such a world.

Where do I start with this book! It has been one hell of an experience because I loved everything about it. Fr
Tanoush Tea
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"History is written by victors" - except not this time. Offering what feels like an exclusive glimpse into the life of the colonised by the colonised in First World War Baghdad, Izzidien's narrative on joint resistance and defeat is nuanced, heart-wrenching and above all beautiful. ...more
Zubs Malik
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It is always beautiful to read a novel that depicts a period of history that is seldom spoken about. A fictitious historically accurate piece of literature that dates back to the 1915 when World War 1 raked havoc not only on British Soil but in the Middle East too.

A book that shows friendship, love and hardship grow form two unlikely souls and a narrative that speaks of belonging, identity and resistance.

Not many books have been written with such fluidity and power. This book was gut punching in
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book describes the events leading up to the creation of the Iraqi state through two main characters whose stories are told in alternating sections and gradually intertwine towards the end of the book. The first is a Baghdadi man who attempts to attain freedom and safety for his people by fighting under first the Turks, and then the British, before coming to view the British as traitors. The second is a Welsh boy who reluctantly enlists in the British army despite his anger at their role dur ...more
Nov 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This novel explores the British involvement in Iraq during WWI through the experiences of Ahmad, an Iraqi family man, later soldier and Carwyn, a reluctant Welsh soldier in the British army.

In terms of the historical period, I found that I was reading about a part of British colonisation that I had never known or heard about (having been more exposed to Indian and African narratives). Izzidien proposes a provocative depiction of historical events, which I doubt would be typically read in a Briti
Aug 07, 2020 rated it liked it
i definitely see what this book was attempting to do though i don’t think it managed to achieve that successfully. for example the book is filled with allusions to iraq’s diversity and the importance of unity between all its sects, yet almost all calls for liberation and self-determination in the book call for /arab/ liberation.
it didn’t feel like the book explored the full potential of carwyn’s position from a land conquered by the english actively complicit in the british colonisation of iraq
Robert Lebling
This first novel by an Iraqi-Welsh journalist is an unusual perspective on the Middle Eastern theater of World War I. Rather than taking the usual British viewpoint, this tale shows us what it was like to be a simple Iraqi caught up in the chaos of war. A simple Welshman serving in the British army is thrown in for good measure.
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I felt a real attachment to this book, maybe because of the way in which British colonial rule has shaped my history. The writer’s excellence in her story telling nature to really uncover the pain and the struggle that minority groups faced in Iraq. I really enjoyed reading this book, I was sobbing at points, I think it’s one of the best books I have ever read, the two main lessons I learnt from this is 1. People make bad decisions but that doesn’t mean they are bad people. And 2. War is the sam ...more
Jan 17, 2020 rated it liked it
I enjoyed it but towards the end the bombastic language became a bit tiring.
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