Iraqi writer wins book festival award for novel about Baghdad during Gulf War

An Iraqi writer’s debut novel about the everyday struggle of Baghdad’s people has won an award at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi won the First Book Award after being chosen from a shortlist of 49.

It reveals the reality of growing up in a war-torn city and a way of life that’s slowly disappearing.

The author, who grew up in Baghdad, said: “I’m very proud for two reasons – first because this prize came from the Edinburgh International Book Festival itself.

“Secondly, because the competition was extremely strong and the books drew on so many different subjects.

“I want to thank my readers from all around the world for choosing my novel.

“I was so happy to participate in all the activities and very impressed by how well organised it was.

“Most of all I was enchanted by the people. I loved everything about the city of Edinburgh and it’s a great honour to be connected to it by this prestigious prize that carries its name.”

The Baghdad Clock is set in 1991 in the midst of the Gulf War, as a young Iraqi girl huddles with her neighbours in an air raid shelter – and also deals with the consequences as she grows up.

It was also shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2018 and topped the bestseller lists in Iraq, Dubai and UAE before Luke Leafgren translated the novel into English.

The author appeared at the book festival in August.

Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: “To tell stories is a fundamental part of the human condition.

“Even in extreme situations like the one portrayed in Shahad’s novel, it’s stories that keep people going.

“Maybe that’s why her novel is so affecting and so powerful.

“The Baghdad Clock is not just a popular winner with Edinburgh International Book Festival readers this year – it’s also a brilliant winner that will live long in the memory and it establishes Shahad Al Rawi as a force to be reckoned with, in Arabic and English alike.”