At Rest in the Cherry Orchard
by Azher Jirjees
ISBN: 978-1-913-04339-1

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Longlisted for the 2022 International Prize for Arabic Fiction



Translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright

“This is a hymn to Baghdad, seen both from within and from afar. No one ever forgets their homeland and the pull of Iraq for Said, drawn at times into hallucinations and near delusion, remains overwhelming. Powerful, poignant, archetypal, Azher Jirjees’s novel seems destined, in Jonathan Wright’s excellent translation, to become a classic of modern Iraqi fiction.”

                                                                                    ALASTAIR NIVEN



Said Mardan has to flee Iraq after an informer colleague reports him for a joke about Saddam Hussein. He obtains asylum in Norway, learns the language, and becomes a postman. He marries his Norwegian language teacher Tona, even adopts her family name Jensen, and starts writing satirical stories in Norwegian for the Dagposten newspaper. However, he suffers throughout from all too vivid visitations from the ghost of his dead father, who was seized and killed by the regime before Said was born. “Where’s my grave?” his father is always asking.

Said’s life is upturned after his wife dies suddenly leaving him struggling with ever-increasing depression, headaches and cruel, haunting nightmares while painful and bloody memories keep rising to the fore, possibly aided by the ketamine he has been prescribed. His e-friend Abir urges him to come to Baghdad immediately, where a mass grave likely to contain his father's remains is about to be opened. He arrives, only to find that Baghdad after the US invasion of 2003 is not the paradise he has been promised. On the contrary the city is exhausted and in the poisonous thrall of competing religious militias: he has to carry two sets of false IDs to oblige whichever one stops him.

After a brutal encounter and finding himself in a large cemetery, he recalls fondly his old Norwegian neighbour Jakob who bought an orchard of cherry trees so that he could be laid to rest there, and according to old legend, reincarnate into a cherry tree. At the mass grave, Said takes a photo of his father – an incomplete father, that is, just a skull and some bones – to fill the empty frame he brought with him. After his shattering experiences, can he also find rest in a cherry orchard?


AZHER JIRJEES is an Iraqi writer and novelist, born in Baghdad in 1973. From 2003, he worked as a journalist in Iraq and published a number of articles and stories in local and Arab newspapers and periodicals. In 2005, he wrote a satirical book about terrorist militias entitled The Earthly Hell, which resulted in an assassination attempt against him and he was forced to flee the country. He fled to Syria, then Morocco and finally to Norway, where he now lives permanently. His other works include two short story collections, Fouq bilad al-Sawad (Above the Country of Blackness, 2015) and Saani‘ al-Halwa (The Sweetmaker, 2017), and two novels. His first novel, At Rest in the Cherry Orchard (al-Nawm fī Haql al-Karaz, 2019), was longlisted for the 2020 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. His second novel Hajar al-Sa‘ada (The Stone of Happiness) was shortlisted for the same prize in 2023. He works as a freelance translator between Arabic and Norwegian.  

Jonathan Wright is an award-winning translator of contemporary fiction by Arab authors, including works by Basma Abdel Aziz, Ahmed Taibaoui, Mazen Maarouf, Amjad Nasser, Ahmed Saadawi, Hassan Blasim, Saud Alsanousi, Sinan Antoon, Youssef Ziedan, Hamour Ziada, Ezzedine C. Fishere, Khaled el-Khamissi, Bahaa Abdelmegid, Rasha al-Ameer, and others.