Title: When the Apricots Bloom
Author: Gina Wilkinson
Published: December 29th 2020
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
What would you do if the secret police demanded you spy on a friend in order to protect your family? Three women confront the complexities of trust, friendship and motherhood under the rule of a dictator in this debut inspired by the author’s own experiences in Iraq
At night, in Huda’s fragrant garden, a breeze sweeps in from the desert encircling Baghdad, rustling the leaves of her apricot trees and carrying warning of visitors at her gate. Huda, a secretary at the Australian embassy, lives in fear of the secret police, who have ordered her to befriend Ally, the deputy ambassador’s wife. Huda’s former friend Rania, an artist, enjoyed a privileged upbringing as the daughter of a sheikh. Now her family’s wealth is gone, and Rania is battling to keep her child safe and a roof over their heads.
As the women’s lives intersect, their hidden pasts spill into the present. Facing possible betrayal at every turn, all three must trust in a fragile, newfound loyalty, even as they discover how much they are willing to sacrifice to protect their families.
Transporting readers to one of the world’s most legendary cities, with mouth-watering cuisine, incredible history, a surprising art scene and bustling book markets, Gina Wilkinson’s suspenseful debut is told through the eyes of three very different women confronting the limits of friendship and forgiveness, and the strength of a mother’s love.
Loyal companship, family ties and parenthood defines the direction of When the Apricots Bloom, the debut release from Gina Wilkinson. The author draws on her extensive background living and working in Iraq under the oppressive rule of Saddam Hussein, to unfurl the lives of three connected women. When the Apricots Bloom is a startling, eye opening and emphatic novel.
A book filled with many demanding questions about life, friendship and family, When the Apricots Bloom asks the reader to consider how far you would be prepared to go to protect someone you care about deeply. Gina Wilkinson’s first novel follows the lives of three remarkable women. The first is Huda, as woman employed as a secretary to the Australian embassy in Baghdad. Huda is a woman constantly on edge, as she has been ordered to conduct business for the secret police, which involves making friends with the ambassador’ s wife. Ally has come to Baghdad as her husband is the deputy ambassador, but this posting is fraught with issues. The final perspective Gina Wilkinson draws on is Rania, a creative soul and daughter to a sheikh. But a change in financial circumstances for Rania and her family sees this once wealthy woman struggling to stay afloat. When the Apricots Bloom sees the lives of these three women converge as they confront the past and contend with the present. With threats abound and danger on the cards, each figure must do all they can to safeguard their lives.
First and foremost, I urge you read the heartfelt author’s note offered by the generous author of When the Apricots Bloom, Gina Wilkinson, as it gives an excellent window into the soul of this novel. I really appreciated how the author took the time to air her personal story with such conviction. Although When the Apricots Bloom is a work of fiction, it is drawn heavily from the author’s experiences living in Iraq. I haven’t read much material on the time period depicted in the novel (2002) and the location (Baghdad) so the opportunity to learn more about Iraq was definitely welcomed on my behalf.
Wilkinson shuffles her viewpoints between three core female protagonists, Huda, Ally and Rania. Each woman is presented with a great deal of heart and understanding. We learn about each woman’s innermost feelings, thoughts, fears, hopes and past lives. I took an instant liking to Ally, but I also warmed to the other two leads. Wilkinson does a fine job of portraying the differing lives and preoccupations of each respective woman. Wilkinson has a natural tone to her storytelling, that allows the reader to make a real and lasting connection to her cast list. I held the protagonist set of When the Apricots Bloom in high regard, which is thanks to the experiences carefully outlined by the author as the book progresses.
I found reading When the Apricots Bloom to be quite an invigorating experience. Despite the fact that this book outlines some rather trying situations encompassing moments of fear, danger, economics, oppression, war, loss and devastation, there are instances where this novel takes the reader somewhere else. With survival, endurance, resilience, courage, bravery, compassion and loyalty leading the charge many times over, it was a rewarding experience to follow along with this story. At all points of When the Apricots Bloom I felt that Wilkinson seemed to capture the true essence of Iraq during the time period outlined. Wilkinson also works hard to build an expansive picture of Baghdad, in conjunction with a day to day glimpse into the general happenings in this interesting corner of the world. With such a richly drawn field, taken directly from the author’s first hand experiences, readers can take away a great deal about a world that differs to their own.
Poignant, genuine and convincing, When the Apricots Bloom is a veritable read that I recommend.
When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson is published by Hachette Australia on December 29th 2020. $32.99.
To learn more about the author of When the Apricots Bloom, Gina Wilkinson, visit here.
*Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
When the Apricots Bloom is book #11 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge