In ancient Nineveh, a young girl and her brother live in poverty without support from their broken and drunken father. In modern Mosul, a young archaeologist thinks she may find her missing (or dead) father while excavating Nineveh. Paul M.M. Cooper’s All Our Broken Idols poetically intertwines the past and the present around this very particular place and explores the heroism required to survive amid devastation.
During King Ashurbanipal’s reign, Aurya and her brother, Sharo, travel from their humble river shack to the majestic Nineveh. Sharo’s talent for drawing and carving earns him a place with the king’s masons, and Aurya eventually finds her way to the library, cataloguing the scores of tablets plundered from other cities.
In 2014, locked away in the Mosul Museum by ISIL militants, Katya finds her life may come at the cost of priceless Assyrian treasures. To save her life—and that of fellow researcher Salim and a young Yazidi girl named Lola—Katya must unearth something valuable.
The epic of Gilgamesh appears in both narratives, bringing that ancient text to life and revealing the similarities across centuries as people search for answers, truth and revelations. Sharo, who exhibits a special ability to recall anything, even things he never experienced, slowly recounts Gilgamesh’s tale to his sister. Katya recites its lines while she digs through layers of history. In both storylines, memory acts as a lodestone, grounding the novel’s characters and their motivations.
With every page, the tension in All Our Broken Idols builds, as Cooper skillfully imparts a growing sense of dread and urgency in both Katya’s and Aurya’s tales. Their fates rest in the hands of those in power. Loss and pain cut through their lives at every turn. As Katya bears witness to the unspeakable, she feels a strong connection to the past. “Hadn’t this all happened before?” she often wonders.
Undeniable forces have drawn each character to this “center of the world,” a city that has been brought down and built back up. Readers will be drawn in as well.