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A Literary Tribute To Iraq's Port City

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

We heard about Basra pretty often these days - thanks to news from Iraq. The city was founded nearly 1400 years ago. It played an important role on the history and evolution of Islam.

Writer Muhammad Khudayyir pays Basra a literary homage in his new book, "Basryatha: The Story of a City."

Alan Cheuse has this review.

ALAN CHEUSE: It all begins with a tree. Once the Date Palm came into existence, Muhammad Khudayyir muses it needed an enclosure. The walled enclosure, he goes on, has to be filled with houses and Basryatha or Basra came into existence. Had it not been for the Date Palm, there would have been no baskets for harvesting dates. Had there been no baskets for harvesting dates, there would have been no date pickers. Had there been no date pickers, there would have been no ships. Had there been no ships, there would have been no port. Date Palms and waterways - without them, no city and no storytellers to recite the anecdotes and histories of the civilized forth at the edge of the desert.

The earliest travelers encountering Basra thought they'd found the real Eden. The truth is, as he presents it, before there was an Eden or a Troy, there were poems about them and poets. So Muhammad Khudayyir is the latest in a long line of storytellers and poets who, as his poetic logic would have it, make places and cities such as Basra become real. Somewhere between history and travelogue, memoir and tribute, "Basryatha" celebrates in myth, memory and metaphor the history and vitality of Iraq's second great city.

Amazed of streets and alleys, markets and bath houses, docks and squares, palm gardens and rivers, the Basra Khudayyir create is a Basra in the mind and heart, a city, which even in the wake of a devastating war, will persist and survive in the imagination of anyone who reads this evocative travel guide of the mind.

BLOCK: The book is "Basryatha: The Story of a City" by Muhammad Khudayyir.

Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.