Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 3, 2021

When the Apricots Bloom (2020), by Gina Wilkinson

When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson has been widely reviewed and I’ve got a backlog to attend to, so I’ll keep this brief.

Set in the near past of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2002, the story explores the fraught nature of female friendship in a surveillance state.  Ally Wilson is an Australian expat, whose husband works at the Australian embassy. She is unable to work as a journalist for two reasons: firstly because of the conditions of her visa as a ‘dependent spouse’ and also because Iraq under Saddam Hussein #Understatement did not welcome foreign journalists.  (They locked them up and tortured them before killing them).  And while most wives in the diplomatic service  give Baghdad a wide berth, Ally wants to be there because she wants to find out more about her mother, who had worked in Iraq as a young nurse, but had died when Ally was very young.

Lo! the staple trope of women’s commercial fiction arrives on the page when the reader learns that yes! Ally has a Secret. One that the Iraqi authorities must never find out.

And it’s utterly unconvincing.  It’s not credible that the Australian diplomatic service would let a wife travel to Iraq as a deputy ambassador’s accompanying spouse when she has dual citizenship through her birth in the US and her through American mother.  It’s not credible that they wouldn’t find out about it.  The novel tells us that there was a blanket ban on American entry to Iraq at that time; it doesn’t tell you that anyone doing any kind of sensitive work involving security clearances not only has to establish a squeaky clean record of their own, but also of their parents and grandparents.  I’m not going to tell you how I know that, but everyone who’s got an Australian passport knows that it carries the place of birth on the identity page.   To get my first adult Australian passport I had to supply my full birth certificate, and my citizenship certificate.

Seriously… would the Australian diplomatic service, already viewed with suspicion by Iraq because of the alliance with Iraq, risk the entire embassy’s security by not thoroughly investigating the background of its personnel and accompanying partners??

Anyway, Ally goes blundering around putting herself and others in danger.  The hapless secretary assigned to monitor and report on her activities descends into a moral quagmire.  Her childhood friendship with a Sheikh’s daughter is resurrected.  The tension mounts when the children of these two Iraqi women are at serious risk and they need to be spirited out of Iraq.

But female friendship triumphs after all…

Six-part TV series maybe?

Jennifer at Tasmanian Bibliophile at Large and Shellyrae from Book’d out admired it more than I did.

Author: Gina Wilkinson
Title: When the Apricots Bloom
Cover design by Christaballa Designs
Publisher: Hachette, Australia, 2020
ISBN: 9780733646409, pbk., 320 pages
Source: Bayside Library


  1. In fiction anything is possible… You are right, of course, but I liked it anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have this one but haven’t gotten to it yet. I’ll be reading it through ‘Lisa’s gaze’ now, lol, and possibly won’t be able to take it seriously.


  3. For some reason I thought this one was based on a true story, but from what you’ve said here, it doesn’t seem likely.


    • She says it was based on her experience of living in Baghdad, and I thought it would be like Hilary Mantel’s Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, by Hilary Mantel but it’s more melodramatic than that one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh dear. I have a copy of this in mount TBR but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. I thought the blurb sounded interesting but I’ll go into it with a bit more caution now! I hate it when you discover something factually incorrect or implausible in a book and wonder how it ever got through the editing process.


    • Just like getting penicillin for an Auschwitz inmate in The Tattooist. Just ridiculous, and then of course you start noticing other things.


      • I have to admit when I was reading the new Craig Silvey (which against my better judgement I actually enjoyed) I found it difficult to believe a homeless teen would have an iPad but figured they might have stolen it but when they started using it to access the internet, I’m like have they got a SIM card, who’s paying it etc etc and then I had to stop myself from noticing all the other implausible things 🙈


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