The bird tattoo A novel

Dunyā Mīkhāʼīl, 1965-

Book - 2022

Helen is a young Yazidi woman, living with her family in a mountain village in Sinjar, northern Iraq. One day she finds a local bird caught in a trap, and frees it, just as the trapper, Elias, returns. At first angry, he soon sees the error of his ways and vows never to keep a bird captive again. Helen and Elias fall deeply in love, marry and start a family in Sinjar. The village has seemed to stand apart from time, protected by the mountains and too small to attract much political notice. But their happy existence is suddenly shattered when Elias, a journalist, goes missing. A brutal organization is sweeping over the land, infiltrating even the remotest corners, its members cloaking their violence in religious devotion. Helen's search... for her husband results in her own captivity and enslavement. She eventually escapes her captors and is reunited with some of her family. But her life is forever changed. Elias remains missing and her sons, now young recruits to the organization, are like strangers. Will she find harmony and happiness again?

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FICTION/Mikhail Dunya
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1st Floor FICTION/Mikhail Dunya Checked In
Historical fiction
Epic fiction
New York : Pegasus Books 2022.
Main Author
Dunyā Mīkhāʼīl, 1965- (author)
First Pegasus Books edition
Item Description
"Finalist for the International Prize for Arabic fiction."--Cover.
Physical Description
268 pages ; 24 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

This debut novel by poet, journalist, and translator Mikhail (The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq, 2018) is compelling reading. Sensitive and tenacious Helen, a member of the Yazidi minority, lives in a pastoral village in rural Iraq, sanctuary from the nightmare violence of war and fundamentalism destroying the country. She meets the widowed journalist Elias when freeing a beautiful bird he has trapped to make a little money for the son he is raising alone. They fall in love as Elias teaches the villagers to read; they marry, then Elias runs afoul of the regime and disappears. Drawing on her journalism skills, Mikhail describes two opposite realms, the peaceful village and the viciously violent treatment of women in Mosul in an ISIS sex slave market, with equal power, and the contrast between the two is excruciating. Just because this is fiction doesn't mean it isn't true. The bird tattoo of the title is one of the rare comforting constants, a shared emblem of Helen and Elias' love within this hellish reign of terror. A harrowing and resonant achievement.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Iraqi American poet and journalist Mikhail revisits in this frank and wrenching novel the subject of The Beekeeper, her nonfiction narrative about the impact of Daesh, the name for ISIS, on the Yazidi religious minority of northern Iraq. In 2014, a Yazidi woman named Helen has been captured by Daesh and sold into sexual slavery. Elias, her journalist husband, is held captive by Daesh, and her two sons are captured and trained as Daesh soldiers. After chapters describing Helen's horrifying circumstances, Mikhail backtracks to 1999, when Helen meets Elias, a Yazidi man who grew up in the city of Mosul. The two marry and tattoo their ring fingers with images of the birds that are important in Yazidi culture. Mikhail then follows the couple through the years leading up to Daesh's ascension in Iraq, and on through the struggle of Helen and other captive women to escape and rebuild their lives. While the author loses focus on the central narrative of Helen and her family, switching to the adventures of a smuggler nicknamed Goofball as he rescues numerous other women, she returns to Helen for a satisfying conclusion. Mikhail's sympathetic and fast-moving story of ordinary life and its violent disruption makes for a moving love letter to the Yazidi. (Dec.)

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