Format Hardcover
Publication Date 12/06/22
ISBN 9781639362783
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 304

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The Bird Tattoo

A Novel

Dunya Mikhail

A powerful and sweeping novel set over two tumultuous decades in Iraq from the National Book Award-nominated author of The Beekeeper.

Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

Helen is a young Yazidi woman, living with her family in a mountain village in Sinjar, northern Iraq. One day she finds a local bird caught in a trap, and frees it, just as the trapper, Elias, returns. At first angry, he soon sees the error of his ways and vows never to keep a bird captive again.

Helen and Elias fall deeply in love, marry and start a family in Sinjar. The village has seemed to stand apart from time, protected by the mountains and too small to attract much political notice. But their happy existence is suddenly shattered when Elias, a journalist, goes missing. A brutal organization is sweeping over the land, infiltrating even the remotest corners, its members cloaking their violence in religious devotion. Helen’s search for her husband results in her own captivity and enslavement.

She eventually escapes her captors and is reunited with some of her family. But her life is forever changed. Elias remains missing and her sons, now young recruits to the organization, are like strangers. Will she find harmony and happiness again?

For readers of Elif Shafak, Samar Yazbek's Planet of Clay, or Ahmed Saadawi's Frankenstein in Baghdad, Dunya Mikhail's The Bird Tattoo chronicles a world of great upheaval, love and loss, beauty and horror, and will stay in readers’ minds long after the last page.


Dunya Mikhail was born in Baghdad, Iraq. After graduating from the University of Baghdad, she worked as a journalist and translator for the Baghdad Observer. Facing censorship and interrogation, she left Iraq, first to Jordan and then to America, settling in Detroit. She is the author of The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, The Iraqi NightsDiary of A Wave Outside the Sea, and The War Works Hard, chosen as one the New York Public Library’s Books to Remember, as well as her edited volume, Fifteen Iraqi Poets. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Knights Foundation grant, a Kresge Fellowship, and the United Nations Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing, and works as a special lecturer of Arabic at Oakland University in Michigan.

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Endorsements & Reviews

“Mikhail’s work is an acknowledgment of war’s incomprehensibility and a resistance against it. Perhaps only fiction is capacious enough to contain the kind of cruelty and endurance that overwhelms our understanding of what’s possible. A striking act of imagination that recasts her earlier research with new emotional power.” Ron Charles The Washington Post 
"Compelling reading. Just because this is fiction doesn’t mean it isn’t true... The bird tattoo of the title is one of the rare comforting constants, a shared emblem of Helen and Elias’ love within this hellish reign of terror. A harrowing and resonant achievement." Booklist
“Iraqi American poet and journalist Mikhail revisits in this frank and wrenching novel the subject of The Beekeeper, her nonfiction narrative about the impact of Daesh, the name for ISIS, on the Yazidi religious minority of northern Iraq. Mikhail’s sympathetic and fast-moving story of ordinary life and its violent disruption makes for a moving love letter to the Yazidi.”

Publishers Weekly
Praise for Dunya Mikhail

"A searing portrait of courage." New York Times Book Review
"Remarkable. A child’s perspective mingles freely with the poet’s mature voice, both baffled by the paradoxes of so much beauty and so much destruction."— Ron Charles The Washington Post
"A powerful reminder." Financial Times
"A visceral account of the outskirts of modern day Iraq. Powerful and heartbreaking, this work lets the survivors tell their stories and highlights the courage of those risking their lives to rescue others." Publishers Weekly
"Dunya Mikhail, award-winning poet, has gathered first-person stories from those who survived [an] unthinkable ordeal, as well as those who worked tirelessly to rescue them. We should all read it."— Peter Stanford The Observer
"Shakespeare would have enjoyed the poetry of Dunya Mikhail, who has spoken of love as a response to a war-torn world–an aesthetic, a value, and a practice." Elizabeth Toohey Christian Science Monitor