Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

Catalog » Browse by Title: O » Out of Mesopotamia

Out of Mesopotamia


Informed by firsthand experience on the battlefronts of Iraq and Syria, Abdoh captures the horror, confusion, and absurdity of combat from a seldom-glimpsed perspective that expands our understanding of the war novel.

Buy on Bookshop
Buy on Amazon
Buy on Barnes & Noble

$17.95 $13.46

What people are saying…

“Abdoh’s powerful novel follows an Iranian war reporter who is torn between his wearying job on the front lines and a civilian existence that he finds increasingly alienating. The book is as much a reflection on memory and art as it is a war story, and Abdoh’s writing captures beautifully the absurdity of both the battlefield and modern life.”
New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice

“One of a handful of great modern war novels . . . These wars will not end until we look at what we are doing and what we have done. Abdoh’s novel lifts the veil on the murderous insanity.”
—Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Chris Hedges, for ScheerPost

“Abdoh takes heavy subjects and themes and presents them with a deft, light hand . . . Out of Mesopotamia nearly produces an out of body reading experience as it transports the reader to the war zones the author toured, while capturing the inherent beauty and strangeness present in both war and art.”
The Markaz Review

“If history is written by the victors then most good war novels are written by those accustomed to losing, and Out of Mesopotamia calls to mind the grim brilliance of Czech writers like Bohumil Hrabal and Jaroslav Hasek—which is to say it is really fucking funny. And maybe this is at the heart of Abdoh’s genius, the art and instinct for getting very close to the darkest corners of humanity without succumbing to the despair that dwells therein.”
Literary Hub, selected by Jonny Diamond as his Favorite Book of 2020

Daily Beast

“An unprecedented novel, one that captures the brutality, absurdity and, yes, beauty of war from the grounded perspective of an Iranian man straddling multiple worlds.”
BOMB Magazine

Out of Mesopotamia is extraordinary and a novel every American should read. Salar Abdoh writes page after page of kinetic fiction. A novel so ambitious and exciting—to say this book is full of truth is to shortchange it; this is a book full of art.”
Aster(ix), recommended by Emily Raboteau

“Abdoh’s superb meditation on art and war exploits and subverts the tropes of popular Western war novels for a thrilling, sometimes comical ride through a horrific series of battles.”
Publishers Weekly, a Best Book of the Year selection

“As much a meditation on time and memory as it is a book about war . . . Abdoh skillfully captures combat’s intrinsic absurdity . . . For many Americans, the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have become abstractions, separated from our lives by geographic as well as psychic boundaries. Abdoh collapses these boundaries, presenting a disjointed reality in which war and everyday life are inextricably entwined . . . [The novel shines] a brilliant, feverish light on the nature of not only modern war but all war, and even of life itself.”
New York Times Book Review

“A masterful, stylish novel . . . Abdoh beautifully illustrates the paradoxes of war in the field and on the home front, alternating moments of brutality and comradeship and showing war’s pointless heroisms, its random accidents, its absurdities, and its ongoing human costs. This is at once a probing look at the disaster in Syria and Iraq, and an affectionate yet gimlet-eyed view of masculinity, art, and cultural politics.”
The Millions, One of the Most-Anticipated Books of 2020

“Abdoh wants to write about what happens to a person who goes back and forth between war and peace, what happens to art in a society engaged in a ‘forever war,’ and what it means for our souls that humans cannot live without conflict.”
Literary Hub, Recommended by Bethanne Patrick

“Profound . . . With first-hand experience with militias in Iraq and Syria, Abdoh travels between war and peace in his novel, picking up on the in-between moments, the ones that are not glorified and where suffering is silent.”
Arab News (Saudi Arabia)

One of The Margins‘s 100 Essential Books by Iranian Writers

One of Vulture‘s Fall 2020 Best New Books

A Chicago Review of Books Must-Read Book of September 2020

“An inherently fascinating read that echoes the devastated and devastating real world conditions of so many war torn populations in the Middle East, Out Of Mesopotamia by Salar Abdoh is one of those novels that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf.”
Midwest Book Review

“A superb pressure cooker of a novel . . . Abdoh brilliantly fuses the confusions of combat and modern life to produce an unforgettable novel. This is one of the best works of literature on the war against ISIS to date.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred review, Book of the Week

“Abdoh explores the lives behind the war-torn headlines in a way that captures the full humanity of the participants. Channeling a bit of Tim O’Brien and a good deal of Joseph Heller, he has written the best novel to date on the Middle East’s ceaseless wars.”
Library Journal, Starred review

“Salar Abdoh defies all formulaic constructions . . . The result is an unblinking look at the realities of war and the impossibility of ever leaving war behind . . . Out of Mesopotamia provides a wrenching examination of war and of the way humanity can’t ever manage to be done with violent conflict.” —Shelf Awareness

“[A] searing, poetic, and morally authentic account of contemporary conflict. Abdoh eloquently depicts the absurdity of war, employing darkly comic interludes while also showing the devastating brutality . . . A devastatingly profound catch-22 of modern conflict.”

One of Publishers Weekly‘s Big Indie Books of Fall 2020

Out of Mesopotamia . . . draws on Abdoh’s experience reporting on the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria in this tale of an Iranian television writer who crosses the border to get a first-hand look at the front lines.”
Publishers Weekly, Included in Fall 2020 Adult Announcements: Literary Fiction

“In what should well become an essential portrait of the fight against the Islamic State, Salar Abdoh’s novel reinvigorates the way we write about war . . . Nothing less than profound.”
Boswell Book Company (Milwaukee, WI) staff pick, selected by Chris Lee

“Based on firsthand experience, Salar Abdoh has written one of the best war novels I’ve ever read, though it feels like so much more than that. Brutal, dark, funny, empathetic and wise, it truly captures the human condition in its finest, ugliest and all the in between.”
Fountain Bookstore (Richmond, VA) Staff Pick, recommended by Carl

Out of Mesopotamia is a brutally realistic look at war and love and fear and everything else that humans do. The writing is impossibly good. The characters aren’t characters at all—they seem to have emerged fully formed from the blood-soaked soil of Syria and Iraq. And they rise up to live out a story that is as old as history and yet somehow could only have happened today. I’m stunned by how good this book is.”
—Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

“What a breath of fresh air it is to read Salar Abdoh’s brilliant Out of Mesopotamia. Written with razor-sharp intelligence and wit, individual sentences good enough to jolt you out of your chair, and an incredible depth of knowledge in his subject, the book captures the tragedy, comedy, and sheer absurdity of modern war like nothing else I have read.”
—Phil Klay, author of Redeployment

Out of Mesopotamia is an extraordinary novel that captures the ambiguous and often contradictory nature of contemporary conflict as well as anything I’ve ever read. Herein you will find the story of Saleh, a journalist trying to keep his footing at the intersection of life and death, bitterness and absurdity, and the sacred and the pointless that is the resistance to Islamic State in northern Iraq. His voice is as honest and direct as any you are likely to encounter on the subject of war in the modern world, and I for one will be thinking of him for a long, long time to come.”
—Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds

Out of Mesopotamia is the novel every American should be reading next. A novel so ambitious and exciting and impressive that comparisons fall short. The Executioner’s Song and A Tomb for Boris Davidovich come to mind—that’s the level of brilliance I’m talking about. Salar Abdoh writes page after page of kinetic fiction. To say this book is full of truth is to shortchange it; this is a book full of art.”
—Victor LaValle, author of The Changeling

Out of Mesopotamia is haunting and wry and beautiful and heartbreaking, and ultimately, it is a revelation. Abdoh takes a story about war and uses it to dig into larger questions about love, loyalty, friendship, and what it means to live—and die—well. Suffused with irony, yet held together by compassion, it will take hold of you and hang on well past the last page.”
—Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King

“In Out of Mesopotamia, Salar Abdoh brilliantly captures the surreal metaphysics of war: love and hate, honor and corruption, literature and lies all mingle in the smoke-streaked fog of lost time, punctuated by moments of sudden, spectacular violence. As urgent and necessary as a frontline report, this masterful novel is at the same time a timeless meditation on sacrifice, fraternity, and the impossibility of war literature. Out of Mesopotamia is a somber and glorious triumph, heartbreaking and sublime.”
—Roy Scranton, author of Learning to Die in the Anthropocene

Out of Mesopotamia subverts the conventions of the Heroic War Journo Memoir to create a novel as brilliant and blackly funny as A Case of Exploding Mangoes.”
—Molly Crabapple, author of Drawing Blood

“This is a masterful, stylish novel. Through the eye of his disarming, disaffected narrator, Salar Abdoh weaves a story at once wry and aching, beautifully illustrating the paradoxes of war in the field and on the home front. Alternating moments of brutality and comradeship, Abdoh’s novel shows war’s pointless heroisms, its random accidents, its absurdities, and its ongoing human costs. This is at once a probing and masterful novel of the disaster in Syria and Iraq, and an affectionate yet gimlet-eyed view of masculinity, art, and cultural politics.”
—Lydia Kiesling, author of The Golden State

“A man finds himself in a war where nobody really knows what is right or what is wrong. But one thing is certain: if you step into this war, you’d better be at peace with yourself. Abdoh’s words can touch everyone because they come from somewhere essential.”
—Jean-Claude Carrière, Academy Award–winning author/screenwriter

“In Western literature and journalism, readers rarely learn anything new about the Middle East, instead encountering old and sometimes vile perceptions reinforced by the latest headlines. Salar Abdoh emerges here as the best sort of combat journalist, whose mission through fiction is to reach the farthest recesses of imperialist misadventure, and to report on the ideological contortions, the religious mutations and schisms, and the seemingly endless havoc that they have caused. Through the voice of an Iranian writer documenting the fight against ISIS, Abdoh delivers a sobering and deeply compelling narrative. His work confirms that it is never too complicated to understand the world if we begin by acknowledging the flawed humanity we share with others. This is an alert, probing, and deeply moving novel.”
—Khaled Mattawa, author of Mare Nostrum

Critical praise for Tehran at Twilight by Salar Abdoh:

“In this swift, hard-boiled novel . . . shadowy zealots exist everywhere, whether in conference rooms or interrogation rooms or—most often—in rooms that can serve as both.”
New York Times Book Review

“Abdoh paints a gripping portrait of a nation awash in violence and crippled by corruption . . . Captivating.”
Publishers Weekly

“A fascinating glimpse of contemporary Iran through the familiar story of childhood friends whose paths are beginning to diverge irreversibly.”
Shelf Awareness


Saleh, the narrator of Out of Mesopotamia, is a middle-aged Iranian journalist who moonlights as a writer for one of Iran’s most popular TV shows but cannot keep himself away from the front lines in neighboring Iraq and Syria. There, the fight against the Islamic State is a proxy war, an existential battle, a declaration of faith, and, for some, a passing weekend affair.

After weeks spent dodging RPGs, witnessing acts of savagery and stupidity, Saleh returns to civilian life in Tehran but finds it to be an unbearably dislocating experience. Pursued by his official handler from state security, opportunistic colleagues, and the woman who broke his heart, Saleh has reason to again flee from everyday life. Surrounded by men whose willingness to achieve martyrdom both fascinates and appalls him, Saleh struggles to make sense of himself and the turmoil in his midst.

An unprecedented glimpse into “endless war” from a Middle Eastern perspective, Out of Mesopotamia follows in the tradition of the Western canon of martial writers—from Hemingway and Orwell to Tim O’Brien and Philip Caputo—but then subverts and expands upon the genre before completely blowing it apart. Drawing from his firsthand experience of being embedded with Shia militias on the ground in Iraq and Syria, Abdoh gives agency to the voiceless while offering a meditation on war that is moving, humane, darkly funny, and resonantly true.

Read an Op-Ed piece, “Grief, Fear and Rage in Tehran” by Salar Abdoh at the New York Times.

Read an excerpt from Out of Mesopotamia at Guernica.

Read an original essay by Salar Abdoh at Literary Hub

Read Salar Abdoh’s contribution to The MillionsYear in Reading.

Read an interview with Salar Abdoh at BOMB Magazine

Watch an interview with Salar Abdoh at On Contact with Chris Hedges.

Book Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Published: 8/2/22
  • IBSN: 9781636140322
  • e-IBSN: 9781617758911
  • Hardcover
  • IBSN: 9781617758607


SALAR ABDOH was born in Iran and splits his time between Tehran and New York City. He is the author of the novels Tehran at TwilightThe Poet Game, and Opium; and he is the editor of Tehran Noir. He teaches in the MFA program at the City College of New York. Out of Mesopotamia is his latest novel.

More info »