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Take What You Can Carry

A novel by

An aspiring photographer follows her dreams and faces her fears in a poignant novel about finding beauty, promise, and love amid the chaos of war-torn Kurdistan.

It’s 1979. Olivia Murray, a secretary at a Los Angeles newspaper, is determined to become a photojournalist and make a difference with her work. When opportunity arrives, she seizes it, accompanying her Kurdish boyfriend, Delan, to northern Iraq for a family wedding, hoping to capture an image that lands her a job in the photo department. More important, though, the trip is a chance to understand Delan’s childhood and bridge the differences of their pasts. Yet when the return home proves less safe than Delan believed, Olivia is confronted with a reality she had not expected, and is awakened to the dangers of a town patrolled by Iraqi military under curfew and constant threat.

But in this world torn apart by war, there are intoxicating sights and scents, Delan’s loving family, innocence not yet compromised, and small acts of kindness that flourish unexpectedly. All of it will be tested when Olivia captures a shattering, tragic moment on film, one that upends all their lives and proves that true bravery begins with an open heart.

Genre: Literary Fiction

Praise for this book

"Lush and sensual and dangerous, Take What You Can Carry is an eye-opening story that deserves to be told. Gian Sardar’s prose is breathtaking; and her book took me on a fascinating journey that I’d never before imagined. A true original." - Janelle Brown

"Take What You Can Carry by Gian Sardar is a beautifully written, absorbing novel that swept me away to 1979 Kurdistan and Los Angeles. Filled with richly drawn characters, it’s by turns a love story and a war story, a coming-of-age and a tragedy, but ultimately a story about hope and the depth of family bonds. Lush, atmospheric, and gorgeous, this is an unforgettable novel." - Jillian Cantor

"With lush, vivid settings, Take What You Can Carry is a story of love and family, and of the heartbreaking power of returning home to the place that knows you best." - Julie Clark

"Take What You Can Carry is a heart-wrenching journey of understanding between two worlds as foreign as they are familiar that will change everything you thought you knew about Iraq." - Kristin Fields

"Set forth in vivid, propulsive writing, Take What You Can Carry is a love story that is also a love song to the Kurdish people and an adventure tale that balances the risks of ambition with the costs of responsibility. Blending romance and near history, Gian Sardar has produced a tale filled with indelible images and characters one comes to know as family. A rich and satisfying read." - Meg Howrey

"Take What You Can Carry is a poignant tale of love and loss, persecution and betrayal. Gian Sardar vividly portrays the heartbreak of two lovers swept up in a political turmoil that threatens to tear them apart as it rips at the fabric of the Kurdish way of life. It’s both a sweeping love story and an epic adventure that will have you frantically turning pages while brushing away tears." - Bianca Marais

"Take What You Can Carry is a beautifully crafted, heartrending portrait of the disparate worlds of America and Kurdistan in the 1970s woven together with an epic love story that is rich, tragic, compelling, and realized with deep care and insight. Powerful and moving." - Suzanne Redfearn

"Timely, romantic, and thrilling from start to finish, Gian Sardar crafts a story with great beauty and heartbreak, reminding us the harder we work to truly know one another, the better we come to understand ourselves. Those of us who love books know this is exactly why we read." - Steven Rowley

"At once heartbreaking and hopeful, this story’s magic is in the power its characters have to love—a partner, a family, a homeland, a people—deeply and unconditionally. I was gripped by Gian Sardar’s emotional storytelling until the final page." - Jill Santopolo

"Take What You Can Carry is that rare dream of a novel that transports readers to a time and place—late 1970s Kurdistan, Iraq—with the power and immediacy of a lush perfume. Sardar delivers a high-stakes love story between a Kurdish immigrant turned Hollywood actor and a fierce aspiring photojournalist that uncovers the burden and blessing of family, ambition, and privilege during times of political upheaval. A thoroughly modern journey to the recent past, this novel is an aching pleasure, a revelation." - Yoojin Grace Wuertz

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