In what should well become an essential portrait of the fight against the Islamic State, Salar Abdoh’s novel reinvigorates the way we write about war. Saleh, an Iranian journalist and reluctant drama-as-propaganda television writer, travels between the urbane art world of Tehran and the battlefields near the northern border of Syria and Iraq, where he’s gotten more involved than a reporter is supposed to be. The novel digs into Saleh’s meditations and struggle to understand: why do we choose to bloody our hands? The answers are many, uneasy and contradictory, but as Abdoh riffs on the Western canon of war – the adrift disillusionment of Hemingway, the absurdity and commerce of Catch-22 – Out of Mesopotamia is nothing less than profound.— Chris Lee
Informed by firsthand experience on the battlefronts of Iraq and Syria, Abdoh captures the horror, confusion, and absurdity of combat from a seldom-glimpsed perspective that expands our understanding of the war novel.
"Abdoh's powerful novel follows an Iranian war reporter who is torn between his wearying job on the front lines and a civilian existence that he finds increasingly alienating. The book is as much a reflection on memory and art as it is a war story, and Abdoh's writing captures beautifully the absurdity of both the battlefield and modern life."
--New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice
"As much a meditation on time and memory as it is a book about war...Abdoh skillfully captures combat's intrinsic absurdity...For many Americans, the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have become abstractions, separated from our lives by geographic as well as psychic boundaries. Abdoh collapses these boundaries, presenting a disjointed reality in which war and everyday life are inextricably entwined... The novel shines] a brilliant, feverish light on the nature of not only modern war but all war, and even of life itself."
--New York Times Book Review
"A masterful, stylish novel told from the perspective of a disaffected Iranian writer who is drawn to the militias fighting in Syria and Iraq. Abdoh beautifully illustrates the paradoxes of war in the field and on the home front, alternating moments of brutality and comradeship and showing war's pointless heroisms, its random accidents, its absurdities, and its ongoing human costs. This is at once a probing look at the disaster in Syria and Iraq, and an affectionate yet gimlet-eyed view of masculinity, art, and cultural politics."
--The Millions, One of the Most-Anticipated Books of 2020
One of Vulture's Fall 2020 Best New Books
A Chicago Review of Books Must-Read Book of September 2020
"Abdoh explores the lives behind the war-torn headlines in a way that captures the full humanity of the participants. Channeling a bit of Tim O'Brien and a good deal of Joseph Heller, he has written the best novel to date on the Middle East's ceaseless wars."
--Library Journal, STARRED review
"A superb pressure cooker of a novel...Abdoh brilliantly fuses the confusions of combat and modern life to produce an unforgettable novel. This is one of the best works of literature on the war against ISIS to date."
--Publishers Weekly, STARRED review, Book of the Week
Saleh, the narrator of Out of Mesopotamia, is a middle-aged Iranian journalist who moonlights as a writer for one of Iran's most popular TV shows but cannot keep himself away from the front lines in neighboring Iraq and Syria. There, the fight against the Islamic State is a proxy war, an existential battle, a declaration of faith, and, for some, a passing weekend affair.
After weeks spent dodging RPGs, witnessing acts of savagery and stupidity, Saleh returns to civilian life in Tehran but finds it to be an unbearably dislocating experience. Pursued by his official handler from state security, opportunistic colleagues, and the woman who broke his heart, Saleh has reason to again flee from everyday life. Surrounded by men whose willingness to achieve martyrdom both fascinates and appalls him, Saleh struggles to make sense of himself and the turmoil in his midst.
An unprecedented glimpse into "endless war" from a Middle Eastern perspective, Out of Mesopotamia follows in the tradition of the Western canon of martial writers--from Hemingway and Orwell to Tim O'Brien and Philip Caputo--but then subverts and expands upon the genre before completely blowing it apart. Drawing from his firsthand experience of being embedded with Shia militias on the ground in Iraq and Syria, Abdoh gives agency to the voiceless while offering a meditation on war that is moving, humane, darkly funny, and resonantly true.
About the Author
Salar Abdoh was born in Iran and splits his time between Tehran and New York City. He is the author of the novels Tehran at Twilight, The Poet Game, and Opium; and he is the editor of Tehran Noir. He teaches in the MFA program at the City College of New York.