The Last Pomegranate Tree


Translated from by

Published: January 24, 2023





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Book Description

“Whenever he told lies, the birds would fly away. It had been that way since he was a child. Whenever he told a lie, something strange would happen.” So begins Bachtyar Ali’s The Last Pomegranate Tree, a phantasmagoric warren of fact, fabrication, and mystical allegory, set in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s rule and Iraq’s Kurdish conflict. Muzafar-i Subhdam, a peshmerga fighter, has spent the last twenty-one years imprisoned in a desert yearning for his son, Saryas, who was only a few days old when Muzafar was captured. Upon his release, Muzafar begins a frantic search, only to learn that Saryas was one of three identical boys who became enmeshed in each other’s lives as war mutilated the region. An inlet to the recesses of a terrifying historical moment, and a philosophical journey of formidable depths, The Last Pomegranate Tree interrogates the origins and reverberations of atrocity. It also probes, with a graceful intelligence, unforgettable acts of mercy.

After being held in a desert prison for 21 years, a Peshmerga fighter in Iraq desperately searches for his son, setting off on a quest guided by memory and myth in this imaginative novel.
New York Times

Bakhtyar Ali’s skillful, seamless movement between history and mythologies is unique in its political engagement and cultural depths. A major writer of our time.
Rawi Hage

Bachtyar Ali is one of those really significant authors you’ve probably never heard of... [The Last Pomegranate Tree] has a fable-like quality... It is poetic and devastating.
Sarah L'Estrange, Australian Broadcasting Corporation's "The Book Show"

Dazzlingly inventive, The Last Pomegranate Tree has Ali engaging with his common themes and, at the same time, employing his trademark style — gritty realism combined with myth, allegory and fantastical flourishes.
Malcolm Forbes, The National

Superbly realized novel of life, death, and what lies between . . . Blending magical realism with dark fables worthy of Kafka, Kurdish novelist Ali spins episodes that require the willing suspension of disbelief while richly rewarding that surrender . . . Altogether extraordinary: a masterwork of modern Middle Eastern literature deserving the widest possible audience.
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Kaleidoscopic and mesmerizing . . . Ali’s novel is a visionary wonder that plunges into the dreamscape of a people’s fraught memory. For readers, this is unforgettable.
Publishers Weekly, starred review

A tour de force . . . The urban scenes contribute to the author’s in-the-round portrait of his homeland, showing us more than bunkers and bomb craters, suggesting fertility and possibility . . . Isn’t it a fine novel that sustains such counterpoint? Alive with the tension between humanity and hatred?
John Domini, Brooklyn Rail

After spending his years in prison trying to forget — “all my memories turned to sand” —Muzafar is released from his desert confinement and immediately tries to locate his son. It is this persistent search for truth that lies at the heart of The Last Pomegranate Tree . . . Ali shows his readers that while truth at first seems a monolith, a different perspective can reveal a new aspect, a new verity, equally as valid as the first.
Andrea Blatz, Asymptote Journal

A deftly scripted chronicle of war and a memorable story of love between a father and his son from one of Iraq’s most celebrated contemporary writers . . . An eloquent and deftly crafted work of literature that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book has been finished.
James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review

Kareem Abdulrahman’s stunning English translation of the Kurdish-language novel The Last Pomegranate Tree by Bachtyar Ali...hovers on the divide between realism and fable...Hints of the divine are what give life to the story...Everything, in the end, is both human and fantastic.
Marina Manoukian, Vagabond City

With charm and grace, with anger and imagination, Ali . . . shows what decades of violence have done to Kurdistan—the depredations of Saddam, the corruption of politicians, the brutalization of the population. The book is unflinching: violence and cruelty really are everywhere. But life also contains the sublime beauty of the last pomegranate tree. It’s not magical. It’s not outside this world. It’s just hard to find through the chaos.
Brian O'Neill, Necessary Fiction

The Last Pomegranate Tree, a modern Kurdish fable, is an immersive, entertaining tale that fuses the charm of ancient legend with the harsh reality of contemporary history. It honours a generation lost or, worse, hardened to death and disaster by years of hostility—both coming from outside the troubled region and arising from within.
Joseph Schreiber, Rough Ghosts

The story isn’t told in a linear fashion–it loops around, backward and forward in time, in circles or a spiral. Thoughts, musings, and descriptions are repeated, in poetic language that can sometimes evoke a bedtime story
New York Kurdish Cultural Center

This is the kind of novel that rewards several readings. It doesn’t lack accessibility, and it’s not purposely “difficult,” but it’s layered with potential connections not immediately obvious, and its mythological foundations are ripe for deeper digs. I highly recommend it.

Another superb novel from Bachtyar Ali, mixing reality, and a very unpleasant reality at that, with myth and fantasy, while telling a complex and first-class story which illuminates the problems that the Iraqi Kurds have lived through. There is no doubt that Bachtyar Ali should be better known in the West.
The Modern Novel

The Last Pomegranate Tree is a transcendent novel about the unbreakable connection between all living beings.
Eileen Gonzalez, Foreword Reviews

A lot of contemporary American fiction is stuck in this . . . false dichotomy between “auto-fiction” and “social realism” and it was really nice to read Ali who comes in like a graceful bull in a china shop, telling a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching story
William Lennon, New Book Recon

The Last Pomegranate Tree is a novel filled with wonderful characters, scenes and stories. It is not afraid to venture into the surreal or mystical, yet, in doing so, it paints an often heart-breakingly realistic picture of Kurdish Iraq. It offers hope in the patience and acceptance of its long-suffering narrator now undertaking a dangerous voyage in pursuit of the third Saryas, for, as he says, 'I cannot be angry at this vast sea that plays with us mercilessly.'
Grant Rintoul, 1streading


Bachtyar Ali pulls in readers with rich, intertwining plots and limpid writing. With the power of an ancient, oral storyteller, the story stops only to start again, punctuated by experiences of disappointment, and by the necessity to overcome them.

Bachtyar Ali is a model novelist . . . like Achebe and Pynchon, Morante and Ortese, who knew how to give a concrete anthropological and narrative foundation to their vision – one made of tragedy and poetry, or rather, the fairytale and the epic. A balance that few writers in the world are still capable of achieving.
La Domenica – Il Sole 24 Ore

Bachtyar Ali invites us to hope and believe in literature as a form of resilience.
La Lettura – Corriere della Sera on The City of White Musicians

The book is a drumbeat. You understand immediately why the author has cult status in the Middle East. How could such an author hide for so long from our book market? There’s a lot we are going to hear and to read from him.
Süddeutsche Zeitung

For twenty years the magician of pictures from Kurdistan lived undetected in Germany. Now Unionsverlag publishes in German his powerful parable.
Neue Zürcher Zeitung

A timeless and contemporary story, wrapped in a fairytale atmosphere.
Il Libraio

A powerful, bleak panorama of a society scarred by history.
Times Literary Supplement

A leading novelist who marks a new era.

Bachtyar Ali is a narrator who is washed with all waters: those of literature and literary theory of the modern age, but also those from the oldest, mythical source of all literature, the need to tell stories in order to tell history, to create meaning.
Stefan Weidner, Deutschlandfunk Kultur

In his works, Bachtyar Ali actually not only looks lovingly at the disturbed victims, but shows, without making any excuses, how fluid the boundaries between victim and perpetrator can become, and so struggles for a new concept of justice that embraces the individual.
Stephan Stockmar, Die Drei

His dreamlike, poetic translation of language makes reading his books a linguistic delight. They are solitaires in the book landscape.
Literature Garage

Bachtyar Ali is one of the greatest writers of Eastern literature.
Fazil Thamir, Head of the Iraqi Writers Union

I’ve read a lot of novels, many of them beautiful novels, but if I have to choose ten of them, I’d have to include all four of Bachtyar Ali’s novels.
Sherzad Hassan

If in centuries to come someone wants to understand present-day Kurdish society, reading Bachtyar Ali’s novels would be what they need to do.
Mariwan Kanie

I've never read anything like it . . . The story is suffused with all kinds of magical, strange things but also deeply informed by the history of Iraq and of the Kurds . . . histories which keep spiking up through the fantastical story in quietly devastating ways.
John Darnielle, singer of The Mountain Goats

After spending 21 years in a prison in the desert, Muzafar-i Subhdam is suddenly released into a lavish mansion. He wants to find his son Saryas more than anything, but Muzafar struggles to reconcile himself with the world outside his desert prison. This sometimes mystical quest and our slightly overwhelmed protagonist make for a lovely, occasionally heart-wrenching read.
Shelbi Polk, Shondaland

Malcolm Forbes interviewed Bachtyar Ali for The National, with translation from the Kurdish by Kareem Abdulrahman. You can read Forbes’s feature on Bachtyar and The Last Pomegranate Tree here.


Listen to Kareem Abdulrahman discuss his translation of The Last Pomegranate Tree on the Paraphrasis podcast.