Baghdad 2003. The city is in flames, caught between a violent dictatorship and an illegal invasion. For the US it is ‘mission accomplished’. For Iraqis it is the beginning of a nightmare apocalypse in which over half a million people will die. Meanwhile the world’s cameras ‘stuff themselves with dust and human flesh.’ Attempts on Death is an attempt by the Iraqi poet and diplomat Chawki Abdelamir to understand the historic destruction of his country and the breaking of its millennia-old past into fragments. It’s a book about oil and sand, soldiers and civilians, heroes and martyrs, the innocent and the dead. Drawing on Sumerian mythology, Islamic history, Arab poetry and the everyday horror of twenty-first century warfare, Chawki tries to explain how Mesopotamia – the legendary paradise of palm-trees and vineyards, and the birthplace of human civilisation –is reduced to a delirious hell ‘where the dead are dying of thirst and the living of madness’. Grim, despairing and desperate, Attempts on Death is also a rich, sensual and ultimately optimistic book.