A piercing book: ‘What Have You Left Behind’ by Bushra Al Maqtari

Most likely, there will never be a more perfect, dramatic, piercing book on the war in Yemen than What Have You Left Behind (Fitzcarraldo Editions) written by Yemeni researcher, writer, novelist Bushra Al Maqtari.

The introduction – painful yet without pity and hyperbolism – is a slap in the face: all the lies naively told in order not to accept that war was – with a perverse logic – inevitable, the signals no one wanted to pay attention to, the country abandoned by those who knew what was coming, a nation militarized to the limit and then attacked by the Coalition forces in 2015.

Bushra Al Maqtari’s Yemen (the book covers the period 2015-2017) is a country under siege, blockade (of cities and nation), run by the economy of the black market, the war profiteers (local and diasporic), where people can die of diseases, hunger, silence, homeless, father-and-mother-less, a country of orphans and survivors with no answers, no balm to their pain.
A country where the basics – water, electricity, food – are a vestige of the past.

It is a Yemen of imprisonment, torture, forced disappearances, air raids and shellings. The shelling from Yemenis to Yemenis, just of different factions.

Bushra Al Maqtari – who has more courage than a battalion of millions – interviewed over 400 people traveling at her own peril, listened to their stories, gathered some of their testimonies in a book compiled by those who have no one listen to their cry.

Children died while playing in the street, families were buried alive under missiles targeting their homes, bodies were never fully recovered (or recognised or put together one last time), fishing boats and huts targeted by Apache helicopters, even a boat from Somalia carrying fleeing Africans was attacked.
And aid organisations absent. Totally absent. Nonresponsive.
You read of people living in shops, in converted schools or skeletons of former government buildings. On the street.
Mutilated families and bodies of Taiz, Aden, Sanaa, Hodeydah, of villages. Areas difficult to place on the map, though the geography of war targets anyone with the most accurate precision.

What Have You Left Behind is a haunting read with no answers, no cure, no explanation, where the culprits come from all sides and it makes no difference: war crimes are war crimes. There is no such thing as fair and just killing or understandable, justifiable killing.
It is a book of victims whose pain runs so deep it alters humanity’s DNA.

A must read.


Bushra al-Maqtari (بشرى المقطري; born 1979) is a Yemeni writer and activist who came to prominence as an anti-government protest leader in her hometown of Taiz during the 2011 Yemeni Revolution.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s