This is the first time I’ve come across a novel about the Yazidi genocide of 2014. Thousands of men who refused to convert to Islam were murdered, thousands of women and girls were taken into sex slavery, and many young boys were forced to become child soldiers. Despite the wonderful work of Nadia Murad and Amal Clooney, little’s been done to try to bring the perpetrators to justice, and around 3,000 women and girls are still missing.
This actually isn’t a very good book – the main character makes so many unlikely escapes that even the author mentions James Bond, someone is murdered with an overdose of Viagra, and another character apparently has a rare blood subtype shared by only around 40 people in the world – but it’s worth reading because of the subject matter. It also contains some interesting information about Yazidi culture, and explains why Yazidi religious beliefs have long been misunderstood.
The main character’s a young woman called Nazo, who’s been betrothed to a cousin, wants to marry someone else, and has a secret admirer called Omed. The Yazidi people live in small communities in NE Iraq, NE Syria and SE Turkey, but mainly in NE Iraq, in the Mount Sinyor area, where most of their holy sites are, and that’s where Nazo’s village is – and it’s where the genocide occurred. When IS attack, she and her 11-year-old deaf-mute sister Sarah are taken as slaves. Her lover’s murdered, but Omed manages to escape.
And then we see how Nazo and many other women are sold or given to IS fighters, or to any other men who’ll pay for them, or put into a pool of women for men to take and rape. Her series of dramatic escapes isn’t really very likely, but that shouldn’t detract from the depiction of the horrors that Yazidi women and girls were put through. This wasn’t the Trojan War: this was Iraq in 2014. This happened.
Meanwhile, Omed manages to reach a Kurdish-controlled area of Syria, where he and other Yazidi refugees join the fight against IS, alongside the Peshmerga (the forces of Iraqi Kurds). He meets and marries a female Yazidi fighter called Soz, the sister of a woman whom Nazo had earlier befriended but seen murdered. Then Omed is killed too, by someone who’d been at school with Soz – as happened in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, we hear about how people turned against former friends and neighbours.
Naz and Soz eventually both start new lives in Germany. But many Yazidi women enslaved by IS are still missing, or have returned to their villages but been unable to reintegrate into their communities because they were raped, and, in many cases, bore children as a result of rape. There doesn’t seem to be much support available for them, and, although the Pope’s brave visit to Iraq recently brought events there back into the news, what happened has fallen a long way from the forefront of international attention.
This isn’t a great book, as I said, but it’s a story that needs to be read.