Cover Image: The Leash and the Ball

The Leash and the Ball

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Member Reviews

The Leash and the Ball was my second novel by Rodaan Al Galidi. First was De autist en de postduif (unfortunately, no English translation yet). I liked it, so I decided to read another by this author.

In the novel, we meet Samir Karim, an immigrant from Iraq. After over nine years in the Dutch asylum center, he gets a permit to live outside the center. He finally has a chance to see what it means to live in this country. Cultural differences often contribute to misunderstandings and funny situations. This was a lightweight, funny, and a quick read.

Rodaan Al Galidi is an Iraqi writer. He lives in the Netherlands and writes in dutch. I assume the author used some of his personal experiences in this novel as the author himself lived in a Dutch asylum center for several years after immigrating from Iraq. His book De autist en de postduif (original title) won a literary prize.

    »How rich that monastery is, I thought. Rich poverty is richer than poor prosperity.«

Thanks to World Editions for the ARC and this opportunity! This is a voluntary review and all opinions are my own.
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The Leash and the Ball is a unique story about an Iraqi refugee named Samir who finally leaves the Dutch asylum center he has lived for nine years.  Out on his own, he meets an odd cast of characters that teach him what integration can be about.  He falls in love with a woman named Leda and seems to chase her in his mind throughout the story. He is continually looking for places to live which is where most of the odd characters come in. While I found it humorous at times, it mostly showed me how immigrants are treated which is often with anger and suspicion.  I found the customs interesting to read about, especially with how different families are in Iraq versus the  Netherlands.  One is loud and boisterous while the other is reserved and quiet.  Samir's loneliness really stands out at times at least until he picks up the leash and the ball and his imaginary dog brings people to him.  I really enjoyed the story and look forward to reading more by this author.
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Thank you to the author, World Editions and NetGalley, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

This story of an Iraqi immigrant to the Netherlands, who is granted asylum and tries to integrate into Dutch culture, is by turns immensely sad, warm and hilarious, and heart-wrenching. Told through Samir's eyes, the book chronicle his efforts to live among the Dutch and navigate his new country, culture and language. At the same time, he is carrying a lot of grief and nostalgia for his country and culture of origin, and his family. His honesty and openness in his search for belonging and identity are thought-provoking and moving.
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The Leash & The Ball
By Rodaan Al Galidi

My interest in stories about the immigrant experience and my search for books in translation came crashing together in this truly heartwarming novel. Samir has been in the Netherlands for 9 years, living in the ASC,( asylum seeker centre), but now he has been given his clearance to "Go intergrate", but owing to bureaucracy, he is still partially trapped in the system.

Told in the first person, this is the story of his endeavours  to get on with his life, the connections he makes through other immigrants who have passed through the system already, his attempts to understand Dutch language and Dutch culture, his many jobs, from chicken catcher to dog walker to satellite dish installer.

Samir is one of a kind, his voice is instantly appealing, he is so full of wisdom and insights and is hilarious. I can't tell you how many times I laughed out loud reading this book. He takes sly pokes at the Dutch and their restrained homogeny, while also taking swipes at Iraqi and Muslim characteristics and stereotypes.  Through ups and downs, he inches his way forward towards citizenship, caught between the insistence the Hollanders place on him to conform and the bossiness of his compatriots who do everything they can to remind him of his traditions and Iraqiness.

I fell head over heels in love with Samir. He is kind, decent, loyal, responsible and never, ever loses his inimitable joy and optimism. 

This is an incredibly fast read, owing in part to very short chapters, but also to the propulsive feeling that takes over when you become invested in the journey of a dear friend.

Thanks to #netgalley and #worldeditions for this eARC

Publication date: 20th September 2022
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I didn’t really know anything about The Leash and the Ball before requesting it on Netgalley, but I like to seek out immigrant stories, books set outside of the US, and novels in translation, and this book hit all three notes.

The Leash and the Ball tells the story of Samir, an Iraqi asylum seeker to the Netherlands. Not a lot of action happens in this book, but it does a really good job of comparing Iraqi and Dutch culture, as well as describing what it’s like to be an asylum seeker. Samir is bright and interesting, and he experiences both generous, kind people, and also unkind people as he learns to make his way in his adopted country. 

I wouldn’t call this a happy book, and there are definite moments of despair, but there are also occasional light and funny sections. I think readers who like quiet, character driven fiction and who are interested in learning more about the immigrant experience will enjoy this one.
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<i>The Leash and the Ball</i> is a very humorous but underlying serious account of immigrants who seek asylum and then try to integrate themselves into their new society.  Samir has spent nine plus years in the Asylum Seekers Center (ASC) in the Netherlands and he now wants to integrate himself into his newfound country. <i>The Leash and the Ball</i> is written by the Iraqi immigrant and award winning author Rodaan Al Galidi.

Samir leaves and the ASC after 9 years and 9 months.   His friend Calvin, who was in camp with him, finds him a place to stay with a family. This family is quite sympathetic to Samir’s situation and he falls in love with the eldest daughter Leda. Eventually he has to move on.  Samir finds himself in several different places where he tries to actually live among the Dutch people and also other places among those who speak Arabic languages.  Samir has a dream that he wants to follow but he doesn’t how to achieve it this new world.

The story is fascinating especially when it compares Iraqi culture to culture in the Netherlands.   The stories of how immigrants deal with the changes that are occurring in their life and their lifestyle are very interesting. It shows the difficulty that the Dutch, as well as, the Iraqis have with the whole integration process.  The author, Galidi, gives a very humorous picture of the situation but at the same time there is an underlying sadness following Samir as he moves from situation to situation.

The characters are fascinating.  Samir is quite conflicted as to whether or not he wants to integrate into the Dutch culture or whether or not he wants to maintain his own culture.  He meets many Dutch people and sees them as being strange but he also lives in various apartments where his previous compatriots are living and he finds them very strange. However, Galidi manages to give a very humorous perspective to all these different characters.

I’d highly recommend this book to people that want to get a perspective from both sides as to how this whole immigration issue is unfolding especially in the Netherlands. I’ll give the book a five on five because it provides a highly entertaining as well as a serious treatment of a difficult subject. I want to think NetGalley and World Editions for providing me with me a digital copy of this book. I give this a review voluntarily.
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A truly beautiful book that manages to be both amusing in places and heart-breakingly sad too. Following the journey a Samir as he tries to understand Dutch society and find some way to fit in, the book shines a light on our western perception of immigration but also on family, friendship and love.
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A good read. This is sometimes emotional and occasionally funny, and a well-told story. I hope this finds an audience. Recommended.

Thanks very much for the free ARC for review!!
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“My journey began long ago in that tiny village: a journey that I thought was about getting to know the Dutch people, but that I should now confess was really about getting to know myself.”

Samir Karim, an Iraqi immigrant, receives his residence permit after a long wait of  “nine years, nine months, one week, and three days” in the asylum seekers’ center (ASC) in the Netherlands. Samir is a university graduate, a qualified civil engineer who fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to avoid being conscripted into the army. He aspires to travel to Tarifa in the south of Spain but is required to maintain residence for at least five years before he can be issued a passport for onward travel. His journey as a resident begins in a Dutch village where he shares accommodation with a friend in the shed of the home of the kind Van der Weerdes family. Here he meets Leda,  who captures his heart and Diesel,   her dog who Samir dubs “a dog and a guru, also a psychologist”. His feelings for Leda and his failed romance deeply impact Samir,  and Leda’s gift of “a dog leash and a rubber ball” plays a significant role in Samir’s socialization efforts. Samir is fond of collecting photo albums and one of his prized possessions is a garbage bag full of photo albums discarded by strangers. He spends his free time poring over the albums and making up imaginary stories about the people in the photos. As the narrative progresses we follow Samir’s journey from the village to a monastery, a building housing several students, and an apartment building housing undocumented people and asylum seekers. He encounters people from different walks of life- asylum seekers  like himself from different countries who are struggling to find their way in a new land , established immigrants who are well settled some of whom offer to assist newcomers and Dutch nationals - some of whom are sympathetic, some not so much. Racial stereotyping, language and cultural  barriers, a general distrust of outsiders and limited employment opportunities are just a few of the challenges Samir has to deal with.  He refuses to live on welfare and does not hesitate to pick up any odd job that would enable him to earn an honest living. In describing his experiences as he navigates his way through a new country, culture and language, Samir's tone remains respectful of both cultures- that of his home country and his adopted country. His perspectives on life in the West as compared to the life he has been accustomed to and the resulting culture shock leads to some hilarious and some heartbreaking situations and insights. 

“Grief from war, murder, death. Grief from poverty, illness, or injustice. From the loss of a loved one who had disappeared or fled. But never did I see grief completely paralyze a family the way it did the Van der Weerdes.”- Samir’s observation on the death of the Van der Weerdes family’s pet rabbit.

One of Samir’s efforts to engage with Hollanders involves pretending to own a pet dog and walking through the streets with the leash and ball gifted by Leda.
“With a leash in your hand, the Hollanders think you have a dog. Then they think, maybe he’s a Muslim, but a good one, not so hardcore and scary.”

The Leash and the Ball by Rodaan Al Galidi (translated by Jonathan Reeder)  is an honest, refreshing take on the socialization process of an immigrant as he acclimatizes to his newly adopted country. With a healthy dose of sardonic humor, the author keeps the tone light and even when alluding to Samir’s nostalgia and homesickness, unhappy memories of war and political unrest in his home country, does so without the narrative becoming too heavy. The prose is simple, the tone is conversational and the style of writing  is congruent with the main character as we get to know him through his first-person narrative. 

Though the pace of the narrative is on the slower side, Samir’s search for a feeling of belongingness and his efforts to feel at home in a foreign land will touch your heart. In Samir, the author creates a memorable character, one that you sympathize with and respect for his honesty, integrity and indomitable spirit. Overall, this is an entertaining, engaging and insightful novel and I eagerly look forward to reading more of this author’s work in the future.  

Many thanks to NetGalley and World Editions for providing a digital review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book is due to be released on September 20, 2022.
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Sometimes sad, sometimes warm, this is a story of a refugee who desperately tries to fit in a new place to call ut, home. But it is not easier said and done, the character has to face a lot of trials and tribulations for it and even though it generates sometimes humourous instances, it still saddens my heart. A very nice read I'd recommend.
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