Gina Wilkinson is an award-winning journalist, author, former foreign correspondent, and documentary maker who's reported from some of the world's most intriguing and perilous places for the BBC, NPR, ABC, and other renowned public broadcasters. During two decades living and working in hotspots across the globe, she spent more than a year in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein. At that time, Iraq was virtually sealed off from the outside world, and Gina lived under tight surveillance. One of her closest Iraqi friends even worked as a secret police informant, reporting on her every move. Gina now works in international development, supporting efforts to end poverty in the developing world. She lives in Australia and can be found online at GinaWilkinson.net.
Use these discussion questions to guide your next meeting.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Inspired by her own experiences while stationed in Baghdad during Saddam Hussein's rule, former foreign correspondent Gina Wilkinson's evocative, suspenseful debut is told through the eyes of three very different women in Iraq at the turn of the millennium. A secretary, an artist and a diplomat’s wife, each must confront the complexities of trust, friendship, and motherhood under the rule of a dictator and his ruthless secret police…
At night, in Huda’s fragrant garden, a breeze sweeps in from the desert encircling Baghdad, rustling the leaves of her apricot trees and carrying warning of visitors at her gate. Huda, a secretary at the Australian embassy, lives in fear of the mukhabarat—the secret police who watch and listen for any scrap of information that can be used against America and its allies. They have ordered her to befriend Ally Wilson, the deputy ambassador’s wife. Huda has no wish to be an informant, but fears for her teenaged son, who may be forced to join a deadly militia. Nor does she know that Ally has dangerous secrets of her own.
Huda’s former friend, Rania, enjoyed a privileged upbringing as the daughter of a sheikh. Now her family’s wealth is gone, and Rania too is battling to keep her child safe and a roof over their heads. As the women’s lives intersect, their hidden pasts spill into the present. Facing possible betrayal at every turn, all three must trust in a fragile, newfound loyalty, even as they discover how much they are willing to sacrifice to protect their families.
“Through two decades of living in hotspots across the globe, I’ve found that while we might pray in a certain way, cover our hair or not, bake our bread flat or leavened, at heart we all want the same things—safety, peace, love. We share far more in common than that which divides us. I hope this book shows that.”
– Gina Wilkinson
This discussion guide was shared in partnership with Kensington Books.
THE DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
When the Apricots Bloom was partly inspired by the author’s own experiences living in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein, at a time when Western sanctions kept Iraq virtually cut off from the outside world. During that period, her closest Iraqi friend worked as a secret police informant and reported on her every move. Did her portrayal of life in Baghdad seem realistic to you? What did you learn about life for ordinary Iraqis that surprised you?
If you were in Huda’s situation, how would you have responded to the orders from the secret police? Should Huda have felt guilty about any of her actions?
Compared to Huda, how does Rania handle pressure from the regime? Does her family’s status protect her, or is that just an illusion?
When the Apricots Bloom
A BuzzFeed Most Anticipated Historical Fiction Release
A Publishers Marketplace Buzz Books Selection
A Target Book Club Selection
“In Wilkinson’s vivid debut, set in early 2000s Baghdad, secrets and lies mingle as easily as the scent of apricot blossoms and nargilah smoke…Wilkinson weaves in the miasma of fear and distrust that characterized Hussein’s regime with convincing detail. Scenes from Iraqi life—paying for work with food items, or snacking on “counterfeit ‘Keet Katts’”—offers a glimpse into a country crippled by economic sanctions…richly drawn characters and high-stakes plot” – Publishers Weekly
“It is hard to imagine how hard life must have been, although Wilkinson does a marvelous job depicting the fear that all of these characters experienced. Her personal experience in Iraq during the years prior to the Iraq war adds genuine depth to this story and the characters’ lives. Reading this story gave me an appreciation for my life in a free country! It was riveting from beginning to end. I loved the characters and their strength and perseverance. A great read!” – Stephanie Crowe, Page & Palette (Fairhope, AL)
“Wilkinson’s atmospheric and suspenseful novel explores the complicated relationships between two
Iraqi women and a diplomat’s wife during Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule. It powerfully illustrates the
peril women faced under his misogynistic, autocratic regime, and the risks, lies and betrayals they had to
commit in order to protect their families. I read this novel with my heart in my throat.” – Lisa Johnson, Penguin Bookshop (Sewickley, PA)
“It is so easy to forget that there are families behind the headlines, and women desperately clinging to
them, willing to risk everything to protect what they hold dear. The stories of these three women are
each compelling on their own, but when intertwined they become formidable. The sights and smells of
Iraq are so vivid, casting hope where there seems to be only despair. This stunning novel has such an
authentic voice it is easy to forget that it is a novel rather than a memoir or history.” – Jennifer Winberry, Hunterdon County Library (Flemington, NJ)
“Reading this novel, I felt the warmth of the sun and tasted the sweetness of the lime tea. The
intricately woven relationship between these characters and the expert pacing had me at the edge of
my seat, turning the pages as fast as possible all the while wanting to savor every sentence, and even
going back to reread a particularly beautiful passage.” – Kaitlin Smith, Copperfield’s Books (Healdsburg,
This recommended reading and discussion guide are shared and sponsored in partnership with Kensington.