One Hundred and One Nights

By Benjamin Buccholz

(Back Bay Books, $13.99, 368 pages)

Who is this author?

Benjamin Buccholz is an author who writes about the war in Iraq with authority: he was deployed there as a Civil Affairs Officer from 2005 to 2006. From that tour of duty came his first book, a nonfiction account about his Wisconsin National Guard unit, called “Private Soldiers.” He and his family lived in Oman from 2010 to 2011, and Buccholz now lives in Princeton, N.J., where he is working on a graduate degree in Middle East Security Studies.

In an essay for the Huffington Post, Buccholz had this to say about witnessing the death of a 6-year-old Iraqi girl:

“While I had studied Arabic for two semesters at West Point, visited Egypt as part of an exchange program and hosted several visiting officers from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Jordan during American officer training programs, nothing in my experience prepared me for the chaos of that scene: women wailing and pulling their hair, the father of the girl haggling over the price of his daughter’s life, the local police unwilling to intervene, and the town council members in their western suits providing a constant stream of contradictory commentary and advice.”

His debut novel, “One Hundred and One Nights,” has an Iraqi girl as a main character.

“The experience of this girl’s death haunted me, both because of the sudden shock of the situation and because the girl had been roughly the same age as my own sons,” Buccholz wrote.

“Her image, seared onto the film of my mind’s eye, stayed with me not only as a soldier but also, more importantly, as a father. I wrote about her, at first, as catharsis. And from that kindred father-feeling I birthed the idea of Abu Saheeh’s situation in “One Hundred and One Nights.” I appropriated my own feelings about the death of the six-year-old girl and I projected them onto Abu Saheeh as the young girl Layla latched onto him in the market place, infecting his loose grip on the world and threatening to unravel all the work he had done to overcome his sense of dislocation and his hidden, insurmountable grief.”

What is this book about?

Abu Saheeh, an Iraqi trained to be doctor in the United States, returns after 13 years to his home country, where the American presence during the war has changed everything. He has a past he wishes to forget, and when he chances to meet a wise-beyond-her-years 14-year-old named Layla, who is obsessed with American culture, she  enchants him, Scheherazade-like, with her whimsical stories. He begins to build a new life, but his connection to a powerful merchant and to a volatile young man he hires to assist him soon bring back memories that threaten to destroy Abu Saheeh and those closest to him.

Why you’ll like it:

The Iraqi War divided America – and Iraq — while it was going on, and still does. One way to get a realistic grasp on the war and the people it directly affected is to read about it, and “One Hundred and One Nights” written by an American who was on the scene, offers that opportunity. Although Buccholz’s book is fiction, or should we say because it is fiction, it explores the emotional costs of that war and the way it damaged soldiers and civilians alike.

What others are saying:

Says Masha Hamilton in The Washington Post: “Iraq war veteran Benjamin Buchholz has written a seductive, compelling first novel that depicts war as intimate and subtle. He captures the distant rumbling of a Humvee, the dappled shadow left by a passing soldier and the ordinary dramas of sibling rivalry and unrequited love. War is no more or less meaningful than those details, but it increases the stakes, Buchholz proposes. And in war, us-against-them is a vast oversimplification. The insurgent is likely to be motivated by concerns more complex and murky than mere jihad. ….In considering Safwan from the viewpoint of the Iraqis, Buchholz’s novel draws readers deeply into the suffering that has colored the country’s recent history.”

“An eye-level view of war-ravaged Iraq with a story that centers around lost relationships, longing and regret….[Buchholz] clearly has an eye for detail; the book boils with observations on the culture and daily life of the residents of Safwan and Baghdad. The author is an astute observer, turning sights, sounds and smells into eloquent snips of the lives of a people who have sustained great loss and devastation. Buchholz’s prose is vivid,” says Kirkus Reviews.

“[“One Hundred and One Nights”] is an intimate view of the war in Iraq as seen through the eyes of one deeply troubled man. Beautifully written, it is a complex yet simple tale of friendship and love, betrayal and sacrifice, and hatred and evil. An important glimpse into a world few of us know or understand,” says Booklist.

When is it available?

It’s in the new books section at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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