By Brigitte Findakly & Lewis Trondheim. Published by Drawn & Quarterly.
Hardcover, 112 pages, Colour, 2017.
A PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF AN IRAQI CHILDHOOD
Poppies of Iraq is Brigitte Findakly’s nuanced tender chronicle of her relationship with her homeland Iraq, co-written and drawn by her husband, the acclaimed cartoonist Lewis Trondheim. In spare and elegant detail, they share memories of her middle class childhood touching on cultural practices, the education system, Saddam Hussein’s state control, and her family’s history as Orthodox Christians in the arab world. Poppies of Iraq is intimate and wide-ranging; the story of how one can become separated from one’s homeland and still feel intimately connected yet ultimately estranged.
Signs of an oppressive regime permeate a seemingly normal life: magazines arrive edited by customs; the color red is banned after the execution of General Kassim; Baathist militiamen are publicly hanged and school kids are bussed past them to bear witness. As conditions in Mosul worsen over her childhood, Brigitte’s father is always hopeful that life in Iraq will return to being secular and prosperous. The family eventually feels compelled to move to Paris, however, where Brigitte finds herself not quite belonging to either culture. Trondheim brings to life Findakly’s memories to create a poignant family portrait that covers loss, tragedy, love, and the loneliness of exile.
Poppies of Iraq has been translated from the French by Helge Dascher. Dascher has been translating graphic novels from French and German to English for over twenty years. A contributor to Drawn & Quarterly since the early days, her translations include acclaimed titles such as the Aya series by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie, Hostage by Guy Delisle, and Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët. With a background in art history and history, she also translates books and exhibitions for museums in North America and Europe. She lives in Montreal.
Praise for Poppies of Iraq
A captivating graphic memoir that shows how war-torn Mosul was once a thriving and religiously diverse modern city... As much as she shows the family’s incremental loss of freedoms, Findakly is nostalgic for the lost pleasures of childhood — including picnics and picking the eponymous poppies — and melancholic about her middle class family’s decline and eventual dispersal around the world.Winnipeg Free Press
A quick yet tender read, with a history lesson on the side.W Magazine
[Poppies of Iraq's] power lies in the contrast between the matter-of-fact nature of the text and visuals, and the dread and horror of the backdrop... there is also hope to be found here — the hope that, no matter what befalls a nation, there will always be individuals who can craft something beautiful by virtue of their survival.Vulture, Best Comics of 2017
Deeply touching... Poppies of Iraq's great success is that it achieves so much with seemingly so little... Her memories, especially the more picayune, could have stemmed from any family the world over. This universal quality is what makes the graphic memoir such vital reading, and when coupled with the co-authors' sharp writing and Trondheim's circumspect illustrations, Poppies of Iraq becomes a work of near-perfection.Under the Radar
Poppies of Iraq is compelling due to its mix of the significant and banal, showing how people can become used to anything, except when they can’t. It’s one of those books you read in one sitting then return to, a lot, and read it all again.Toronto Star
This absorbing graphic memoir offers an insider’s view of the rapid cultural changes that beset Iraq in the latter half of the 20th century... Short vignettes about her family, school, and local customs are alternately bittersweet, funny, and affecting as a series of military and political coups impact her family’s life in Iraq... A moving, thought-provoking title for all collections.School Library Journal, Starred Review
A plainly stated, emotionally devastating memoir... Throughout this bittersweet book, Findakly and Trondheim interweave the political and personal in a way that mirrors and heightens real life. Poppies of Iraq is about big events as seen through small eyes: there’s a universalness underneath the specificity. Anyone, even with a boring childhood, should find something to relate to here... an unforgettable, devastating, sweet book.Salon
[Poppies of Iraq describes] a childhood caught between cultures [and] vividly capture[s] an oppressive regime as seen from a kid's guileless point of view.Sarah Liss, Reader's Digest September 2017...
An Iraqi childhood is cherished, examined, and let go in this tender look at youth amid upheaval... an ode to a lost era, to be sure, but one with its feet planted securely in the present.Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
One of Publishers Weekly's Most Anticipated Fall Books
The personal and political interweave in this sad yet charming memoir... Like snapshots, Findakly’s story toggles back and forth in time, depicting memories mixed with historical background and “In Iraq” vignettes about customs in that country.Library Journal
The rich effect of Poppies of Iraq... comes from the manner in which the sweet and domestic rests alongside horror. The book is packed with reminiscences that are part wholesome — playing on ancient monuments and going on class field trips — but that are scorched by political violence.LA Review of Books
This personal portrayal of the impact of war and societal upheaval on one family will help many Western readers to see how the past half-century of conflict has devastated a region rich in ancient culture. Small in size but large in impact, this intimate memoir is a highly relevant and compassionate story of family, community, prejudice, and the struggle to love when the forces of the world push groups apart.Kirkus Starred Review, Best Teen Books of 2017Kirkus Starred Review
A likable memoir that offers a window into Iraq. Regimes come and go, touching her childhood in often bizarre ways... Bright panels give the narrative pathos as Saddam’s power grows, food becomes scarce and paranoia slides its hooks into everyday life. Findakly lives in France now, and her sweet, sad book is full of affection for the place she once belonged.James Smart, The Guardian
Wise, touching and wonderfully vivid... Findakly’s memoir covers an extended period in Iraq’s recent history; by the time it ends it is 2016, and the cousins she left behind when her family moved to France in the 70s have finally followed her out, worn down by years of war. Yet the half century ticks by with amazing ease, its author managing to tell both the story of a (complicated, fearful) nation, and that of one family of exiles coping with a new life in Paris.Rachel Cooke, The Guardian Graphic Novel of the Month
A nuanced story of her relationship with her home country.Bust Magazine
Poignant and powerful... a meditation on the ache and longing for a place you can no longer return.Boston Globe
A moving tribute to familial love in times of war.Booklist Review
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.Bomb Magazine
What is it like to grow up in Iraq? That’s the question at the heart of Poppies of Iraq... Although [Brigitte Findakly's] childhood seems normal, it’s peppered by the remnants of a dictatorship [and] after her family moves to Paris, Findakly finds that exile is as devastating as state-sanctioned violence. Poppies of Iraqis a beautifully drawn graphic novel that shows how growing up in Iraq is more complicated than it seems.Bitch Magazine