An unlikely story of survival

filled star filled star filled star filled star star unfilled
ewjacobson Avatar


When the Apricots Bloom is the debut novel from former foreign correspondent Gina Wilkinson. She draws upon her own experiences living in Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime, where she was befriended by a woman who reported back about all of her comings and goings and who she spoke with.

Her novel follows the stories of Huda, a secretary at the Australian embassy, Rania Mansour, her former childhood friend and daughter of a sheikh, and Ally Wilson, the wife of the Australian deputy ambassador.

The mukhabarat force Huda into reporting back on Ally under threats of drafting her son into the Lion Cubs and then the fedayaan, a militia known for forcing young boys to kill or be killed. She reluctantly befriends Ally and the lines of informant and friendship blend together over time but Huda will do anything to protect her son.

Rania, a gallery owner and former painter, has lost her wealth over time and is forced to sell off her father's extensive book collection. She relies on foreign diplomats and customers to purchase artwork as well. A greasy representative of the president commissions a painting and demands Hanan, Rania's daughter, come to the palace upon delivery so she may become a "companion" for Uday Hussein, the president's son known for his depravity and cruelty. Rania must find a way to get her daughter safely away from Baghdad.

Ally lists herself as a "dependent spouse" on her visa application in order to accompany her husband Tom to Baghdad, a city her mom once called home as a nurse, when women could walk around in short skirts and lounge on the beach for picnics. Ally longs to know her mother, who died when she was five years old, and her father never shared stories after her death. Young and naive, Ally doesn't realize how dangerous her investigations are for herself or those around her.

Over time, hidden pasts and secrets spill into the present. All three women must learn to trust each other, in a fragile bond that leaves them all desperate to protect themselves and their families.

Thank you to BookishFirst and Kensington Publishing Corp for the ARC. All opinions are my own.