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Category Archive for 'Iraq'

In Ancient Light, the final novel of a trilogy involving Alexander Cleave, Cass Cleave, and Axel Vander, John Banville brings the arc of his continuing story to its conclusion, both in terms of plot and in terms of theme. Here, sixty-five-year-old Cleave and his wife Lydia (whose name is really Leah) are still mourning the death of their pregnant daughter Cass, who died ten years ago. Lydia has full-fledged night-time rampages in which she panics, convinced that Cass is still alive in the house somewhere, while Cleave, sometimes has strange dreams and “manifestations.” Their dreams are always a combination of reality and memory, presented in new forms through the kind of invention which comes through troubled sleep. With its parallel narratives of Cleave as a young man having an affair with Mrs. Gray, his best friend’s mother, and Cleave as a sixty-five-year-old actor trying to save Dawn Devonport, the reader is kept totally engaged with two vibrant stories filled with excitement, yet the scenes and events constantly suggest that there is more underlying the action than meets the eye. The result is thrilling, with the reader willingly assuming the roles of both detective and psychologist, analyzing the details, and finding the answers all related thematically, all part of a trilogy, every detail on every level connected to every other detail.

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In this complex, challenging, and unconventional novel, Iraqi author Ali Bader takes on the ethnic and political history of the Middle East from 1926 – 2006 for his scope. An unnamed Iraqi writer has been asked by USA Today News to write an article about the murder of Kamal Medhat, an eighty-year-old Iraqi violinist whose body has recently been found. Kamal Medhat is one of three completely different identities and separate cultural backgrounds used by the same man, however, and the writer is hard pressed to follow the violinist’s trail as he moves through Iraq, Iran, Syria, Russia, and even Czechoslovakia. Author Ali Bader has long been fascinated with metaphysics and views of identity, and he uses the violinist’s three personas in direct parallel with the three personas used by Fernando Pessoa in his poetry book The Tobacco Shop, selections of which begin the novel and echo throughout. Carefully organized thematically, the novel is unconventional in style, and some confusion also results from the fact that the journalist “reports about,” instead of bringing a character to life the way one expects of fiction. Ultimately, the author writes a novel of broad import from a unique point of view. Different from the typical novel in style, this is very challenging but very rewarding.

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If ever there were someone who had a right to be angry and bitter about the fate of Iraq and its intellectuals, Mahmoud Saeed has that right. Arrested and jailed for a year and a day in 1963, when he was twenty-four, and again five more times after that, through 1980, he was never again to see any of his books published in Iraq, and two of his manuscripts were burned by authorities. Yet even Saddam City (released in the US in 2006), about a similar young man unjustly imprisoned and tortured, is a novel filled with humanity and hope, despite the author’s own traumas. Even stronger feelings are evoked in this novel. Obviously autobiographical, at least in part, Saeed examines the various kinds of love which a young boy from Mosul discovers as a youth, sweeping the reader along on a tide of empathy and making him/her feel at one with the main character. Providing wonderful insights into the lives and cultures of the main characters – Muslim, Christian, and Jewish – many of whom are friends of the young boy and his family, The World Through the Eyes of Angels is aimed directly at the heart without a shred of easy sentimentality.

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Iraqi schoolteacher Mustafa Ali Noman has spent his life avoiding Saddam Hussein’s military, the Baath Party, and controversy in general. Happily married and the father of a young son and daughter, he and his wife are, for the first time, in a position to build a house, which he inspects on weekends, now that the house is close to completion. After leaving school for an hour to pay the final bill to the contractor, Noman returns to his class, but he is arrested by two Security officials as soon as he returns, taken to prison for interrogation, and slapped around. It is 1979, and Noman knows that “sooner or later, everyone is liable to run afoul of the regime or be mistaken for someone who has. Being free only means one thing: imminent arrest.” Though he is completely innocent, Noman spends the next year being moved from prison to prison, where he and those with him are tortured by some of the most painful methods ever devised. Told in an almost journalistic style, author Mahmoud Saeed, who himself was arrested and jailed for a year in 1963 and rearrested five more times after that–up to 1980–uses his personal observations and his own feelings to pay witness to the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

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When an unnamed speaker is contacted by a gravedigger and his “depraved friend” to write a biography of the recently deceased philsopher Abd al-Rahman, “the existentialist of Baghdad,” he is told that the biography will be financed by a wealthy merchant and that they have documents to give him for his research. Though the writer knows that these people are scoundrels, he is so destitute that he agrees to accept the job. Part II, “The Writing Journey,” consists of biographical snippets by the writer/biographer, though the presentation of information is not chronological. Flashing back to the life of Abd al-Rahman in the 1960s, the story unfolds, a challenging story in which the philosophy of Sartre becomes irrevocably intertwined with the pleasure-seeking desires of the well-off Abd-al-Rahman, who is always seeking the goal of “nausea” through wine, women, and self-indulgence. Iraqi author Ali Bader, now living in Jordan, has written a novel which is fascinating for the glimpses it offers of the cultural life of Baghdad in the 1960s, even though some aspects of this life are satirized for their pretentions.

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