cover image The Bird Tattoo

The Bird Tattoo

Dunya Mikhail. Pegasus, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-63936-278-3

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.)