Poetics of Iraqi Trauma Post 9/11 Events
Key words: invasion, occupation, imperialism, hegemony, violence, death, terrorism, sectarianism, exile, subalterns
The events of 9/11, 2001 was the touchstone that helped to shape the American Neo-Imperialism that is driven by hegemony and imposition. Many countries, in response, strengthened their so-called anti-terrorism legislation and expanded law enforcement powers. The United States responded to the events by claiming a war against terrorism which first began by invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban, which had harbored al-Qaeda and then invading Iraq under the claim of disarming it of weapons of mass destruction, ending Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and freeing the Iraqi people. The US invasion of Iraq with the aid of the coalition forces, had many dangerous results ranging from death and destruction to regional instability and a weakened world economy. That invasion was one of the most inexcusable crimes since its effects continue to structure the political reality in Iraq and beyond. First and foremost, the progress of the civil war which occurred in connection with the postcolonial state in Iraq with its weak political institutions has refuted all the claims of Bush’s administration to create a stable, peaceful and democratic regime that can survive the departure of U.S. troops.
Since the time of the occupation until the present moment, Iraq has been suffering the bitterness of civil war and factionalism mostly among the Arab Sunnis and the Shiies because of the American administration and certain neighbouring powers which helped to strengthen the belief that the formation of any state in the so-called new Iraq must necessarily be attained through depending mostly on the Shiies who were silenced and marginalised during the long years of Saddam’s leadership; consequently that mistaken vision helped to deepen sectarian hatred and enmity among the different sects of Iraqi population. Through arrogance and incompetence, the US created a vacuum in which violence became the primary medium of power and sectarian identity in Iraq. Violence became the dominant ideology that is running all the way from the offices of state to the poor streets of the common people, where militias became the primary providers of food, medicine and employment.
It is undeniable that many local figures were directly, responsible for much of the violence; however the overwhelming weight of responsibility rests with the US occupation, which provided both opportunity and motive for Iraq’s fall into civil war. The US invasion which came under the justification of liberating Iraq from long years of Autocracy under the regime of Saddam Hussein, in fact, failed to create a national dialogue and as a result it gave birth to an Iraqi state that is incapable of unifying the national and social structure of Iraq and it became only a source of personal enrichment. Now, it remains unclear whether Iraq is to be a federative or centralized state, and whether law is to be based on secular-democratic or sectarian principles under the name of religion.
The results of the US invasion are still effective in the various fields of Iraqi life creating a sociopolitical discontinuity. The complex mosaic of traditions, religions, cultures, ethnicities and histories in Iraq is lost to US and Western strategic planners. Beginning in 2006, sectarian clashes worsened and inter-communal violence led to rising death and injury, as well as massive new displacement of thousands of people who were forced to leave their homes, looking for security for themselves and their families. Unemployment and poverty rose sharply, too. Education has broken down. Till now, Iraqis basic needs in drinking water, food, and electricity are not met. Hospitals lack basic medical supplies and are understaffed. The United States and its allies ignored the warnings of organisations and scholars concerning the protection of Iraq’s cultural heritage, including museums, libraries, archaeological sites and other precious repositories. Coalition forces destroyed or badly damaged many historic urban areas and buildings, while thieves ruined thousands of incomparable, unprotected archeological sites. The increasing violence led to affirming the calls of dividing Iraq into three main regions: Sunni, Shiie and Kurdish, let alone the other religious sects who are marginalised and silenced. Most of the Iraqis, today, argue that the division project will complicate the security problem rather than solve it.
The remarkable dehumanisation of the Iraqi citizens was also represented in reducing all actions of Iraqi resistance to terrorism. Thousands of people were imprisoned and houses were demolished under the excuse that they are bomb shelters. In her book Discourses On Violence: Conflict Analysis Reconsidered, Vivienne Jabri investigates the concept of war and violent conflict via a post-positivist, critical viewpoint. She provides a radical, interpretative approach to conflict studies and identifies novel applications for some of the most recent concepts in critical social theory. The author argues that the Imperialist regime views resistance as an action of violence that is always connected with the other, and any response to such violence is “ framed in terms of policing and maintaining order”. This fact has shaped all the coloniser-colonised experience throughout history until the recent experience of Iraq. Jabri adds that a discourse on peace assumes a basis on the transformation of symbolic and institutional orders which underpin violent human conflict (Jabri, 1996: 145-46).
Delivering a lecture titled “The United States, the Islamic World, and the Question of Palestine” to the Berkeley community at the University of California on 12th Feb. 2003, Edward Said Criticised the Bush administration’s rationale for regime change in Iraq saying if Iraq was “the world’s largest exporter of apples or oranges, no one would care about its weapons of mass destruction or human rights exploitation. Unarguable, he says that Saddam’s dictatorship has violated several human rights. However, everything Colin Powell has accused the Ba’athists of, has been the “stock in trade of the Israeli government since 1948″.(Said, 2003:12) In the preface to the 25th anniversary edition of his book, Orientalism, Said not only opposes the war against Iraq, but also criticised its extremely dehumanising language, referring to General Sharon of Israel and George W. Bush, who ironically regard themselves as masters of peace while being responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in Iraq and Lebanon. Said also condemned the U.S. government for its strong backing of the Israelis against the Palestinians; yet, he maintains that violence is not the answer and that all human conflicts are caused by people and can be resolved by humans.
II. Iraqi literature in Post US invasion Era
The literary field in Iraq is connected to the several transformations that the country witnessed under the fall of the former regime, the invasion of 2003 and the ill- conceived results of the US occupation. Contemporary Iraqi literature is the product of multiple discourses which resulted from the changing situations which took place throughout history. It focuses mostly on a homeland that has suffered long years of oppression and repression under the autocracy of Ba’thism and Saddam Hussien, wars, occupation, and the grim conditions of sectarian enmity. Iraqi writers, nowadays, are forced to open new literary fields side by side with experimenting traditional ones. In Writing the Modern History of Iraq, written by Jordi Tejel and others, Peter Harling argues that the literature of the Iraqi writers which exists nowadays is centred on issues of power and repressive regimes that influenced the engineering of the social structure of Iraq (62). Narratives of victimhood has appeared in Iraqi literature, representing the ethno-sectarian conflicts between the Iraqi people as a result of calls of protest against the marginalisation of some sects as opposed to the claims of ownership of other sects. Contemporary Iraqi fiction is more concerned with sociopolitical themes and revolutionary causes that give a unique perspective on the Iraqi life before and after the US invasion.
In the introduction to A Portrait of Uruk, published by the Iraqi poet and translator Khaloud Al-Muttalibi, a professor at the college of Fine Arts, Baghdad University, argues that the translated contemporary Iraqi poetry reflects the bitter social experiences of Iraqi people under the problems of wars, dictatorship and terrorism that the country still endures, for this reason it is impossible to be understood without shedding light on its historical background and the transformations through which it went (Al-Muttalibi, 2012:7). By disseminating the translated lines of Iraq’s authors to the minds of westerners, this book contributes to the process of reconstructing the memory of Iraq. The themes enact a broad variety of social and political shifts that have occurred throughout the turbulent history of Iraq, such as exile, the fight against tyranny, sectarian bloodshed, and occupation. The authors of the anthology share the same political and social experience, which is expressed by each of them through poems and stories that show their individuality and their unique perspectives, displaying raw emotion from the very center of their souls. Although they live in different parts of the world, both inside and outside of Iraq, the anthology’s authors are all Iraqi.
“Uruk’s Anthem” is one of the remarkable poems in this anthology which represents a desperate voice at the Iraqi situation. This poem is one of the longest poems in Arabic literature by Adnan Al-Saeigh which was first published in 1996, denouncing the horrors of wars and dictatorship. It reflects Al-Saeigh’s love for freedom as a reaction against repression and injustice that led to his exile at Jordan and Lebanon. The poet was sentenced to death after publishing it, therefore he took refuge at Sweden:
Occasionally, we enter a tunnel within tunnels
Will we reflect?
Maybe it would have been better for us not to go into the first tunnel
Maybe it would have been better not to shout (ll.5-9)
A member of the Eighties Movement, Al-Sayegh was born in the city of Al-Kufa in 1955, which is located on the Euphrates and is famous for its seventh-century mosque. His brave fight against injustice has resulted in exile and death threats, yet he continues to write about the horrors of war and dictatorship anyhow. Uruk is the Sumerian capital of King Gilgamesh, and the goddess Inanna is its patron deity. Its skeleton was discovered in Iraq near the Euphrates River:
I climb the walls of the city
trashed by enemy aircraft
and see Ninkal with her hair spread1
over its ruins, lamenting as she beats herself.
Bulldozers scrape her off
so builders can smother her tombs in banking districts.(ll:1-6)
this poem is a beautiful, powerful, and courageous piece. It is at the same time apocalyptic and terrifying in its unwavering scrutiny of, and opposition to, oppression and dictatorship wherever it occurs in the world. It Combines the old literary traditions of Arabic and Sumerian with a wide variety of forward-thinking and risk-taking elements from both Arabic and Western literature. During that time period, Adnan was compelled to serve as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq War for a total of eight years. A big number of his comrades were slaughtered, and he was held captive by the army for eighteen months in a facility that was once used as a stable and a dynamite store. This facility was located perilously near to the border with Iran. Both in 1989 at the Academy of Fine Arts and in 1993 at the Rasheed Theatre in Baghdad, where the play gained widespread praise but infuriated the government, portions of this poem were adapted for the stage and performed. Adnan and his family fled the country and sought asylum first in Amman, then in Beirut, and then in Sweden, where excerpts of this poem, along with the poems of Adnan’s friend and fellow Nobel Laureate Tomas Transtromer, formed a play that was performed in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2014, as well as in Egypt in 2007 and 2008. Additionally, it was staged in Morocco in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2014 respectively.
In the introduction to the translation of Bombs Have Not Breakfasted Yet: Selected Poems, Abbas Khadim argues that “the poetry of Adnan al-Sayegh reveals a poet who dives deep in history to shape its political, religious and cultural controversies into fresh poems that match today’s conflicts” (Kadhim&Sullivan,2013, 6). It is difficult to distinguish between the old blood and the fresh one, both having been shed for the same nonsense. His response to the madness of sectarians from all persuasions is a call to the one God, who is much simpler than the sophisticated, pretentious doctrines of the grand theologians: My Lord is one/ Not a Catholic/ or a Protestant/ Not a Shi’i/ or a Sunni. The poet’s preoccupation with discussing the atrocities of war and sectarianism provides insight on the deep significance that it plays in the formation of both his personal and literary identity. Al-Sayegh describes Iraq, from which he has been physically exiled, as “A heap of broken images,” in a style that is evocative of T. S. Eliot’s writing. It is a vast dungeon or an Inferno similar to that described by Dante in which existence is made intolerable:
I traveled beyond the period of betrayals,
towards a heroic scream over a green “homeland” tilled by swine and worms.
I entered the poem’s orbit,
Half-free and half-handcuffed.
Behind me was the bark of the worthless battles which the General had sent out to rip our flesh apart.
I fled, ran, ran through the jungle of death,
dodging bombs and martyrs. (2004, 296, the lines are my translation)
Al-Saeigh tried to find a way out of this internal exile, which is what makes his exile a part of the autobiographical mode. In fact, Al-Saeigh’s poetry is full of references to the frustrated, alienated, and mentally displaced “I.” This is a sign of the traumas he went through in Iraq. Al-Sayegh felt like he was falling apart on the inside, and leaving Iraq was the only way for him to feel better. Even though he is free to write poetry and live his life while he is in exile, he is not completely free. In his poem “Papers,” Al-Saeigh expresses his acceptance of his status as an exile. He attempts to construct a new country out of the words in his poetry. His poetry become his “virtual” country of origin. Al-Saeigh is able to mentally deal with the horrors of being separated from his nation with the support of his poetry. In this way, he is similar to the African author Chinua Achebe who defines his writings as part of a “process of re-storying peoples who had been knocked silent by the trauma of all kinds of dispossession”( Rodrigues, 2007, p.1) He says:
I am a travelling poet.
My hands are in my pockets,
And the sidewalks are my pillow.
The poem is my homeland. (2004, 101)
Exile has become one of the prominent themes in contemporary Iraqi literature. Large number of Iraqi writers have sought exile because of political considerations. The repressive state controls under different regimes have always forced Iraqi thinkers, poets, writers, artists, and other professionals to seek refuge in other countries. In Imagining Iraq: Literature in English and the Iraq Invasion edited by Suman Gupta, Muhsin Al-Musawi argues that exiled writers and artists are absorbed and imprisoned by memory, with all the implications of attachment to the past or yearning for release from regret. He mentions that poetry of exile serves as the bridge between tradition and modernity, as it builds on a classical corpus that manifests four significant aspects: first, there is the desire to traverse the universe, gain knowledge and enjoy the new location “against the vicissitudes of time,”, Second, there is paradoxically the fear of humiliation and desolation in leading the life of the stranger, third, an overwhelming sense of alienation and loneliness because of absence of human contact with the family and friends, and fourth, the difficulty of orientation with the new settlement (Al-Musawi: 164-65) . What is perhaps unique about the current wave of Iraqi exiles, however, is the fact that, in numerical terms, they surpass earlier waves by far in terms of their global dispersion. The writers who focused on the effect of exile on them wrote with an agonized tone showing the bitterness of separation from their homeland, Iraq. In his poem “Ulysses”, published at A Portrait of Uruk, Al-Saeigh offers a brief narrative of his memories and of his country’s troubled time under an oppressive regime. He recalls the happy memories of the past and laments the miserable conditions of the present; however he is resigned to the fact that he has no other option: he is powerless in the face of a homeland that relentlessly pursues him or inhabits his mind and heart:
On Malmö’s bridge
I saw the Euphrates
extending its hands
and leading me-
Where to? I said.
The dream was hardly over
Farewell to a window
in the land of ruins
Farewell to a palm tree, bombed, stripped of its greenness
Farewell to a bitter homeland that we leave behind
but where to?
bitterness of exile?
Nothing is left of the palm trees that shaded me
except pale images (Al-Saeigh, 2012:43)
The exilic poems of Al-Saeigh and his contemporaries of Iraqi writers seem to be overtaken by a sense of resignation that their homeland will not survive as they knew it. Iraq has become to them in a sense, like a lost paradise. They seem to be torn between conflicting feelings of relief and disbelief for obvious reasons: Iraq is at last free from Saddam Hussein’s rule, but it has fallen victim to what they regard as a new form of colonial oppression and its postcolonial consequences. Amal Al-Juburi, for example, in a poem entitled “Baghdad” declares: Your people have showered you with a barbaric love / and exchanged the tyrant’s departure you’re your death .
III. The New Iraq in the eyes of Contemporary Iraqi feminine writers
Contemporary Iraqi women writers have their share in depicting themes of violence, war and exile in their literary output. They have shifted their focus to the Iraqi national narrative that has become steeped with war, death, oppression and a plethora of hardships and atrocities. They write their experiences from a powerful feminist outlook in an attempt to represent the voice of the subalterns of the Iraqi society. They write with a sense of endurance and survival confirming their independence and power.
Female Iraqi writers belong to different sects and different social classes. Some of them are writing inside Iraq and others represent themselves from their exiles; however the diversity of their social and cultural backgrounds is a positive factor that enables them to share the intersecting realities that reflect their pains and everyday struggles. Referring to Gayatri Spivak’s famous essay “ can The Subaltern Speak”, Hanan Kashou questions the possibility of feminine Iraqi literary voices to represent all the marginalised voices in the Iraqi society especially that the challenge is very big because of its plurality. She argues that the true feminine Iraqi voices were marginalised at a time when they had to endure the accumulated miseries of bombing sanctions, occupation, sectarian violence and a shattered nation (Kashou,2013: 126-28); nevertheless, Iraqi women writers now have a good exposure to the lived experiences they depict. Their writings on what has Iraq and the Iraqi endured over the latest decades reflect their truly lived experiences, as most of them wrote about a war they witnessed, or wrote about an experience someone lived.
Lutifah Al-Dulaymi is an Iraqi novelist who dedicated her latest novels to themes of war and exile. Sayyidatu Zuhal, published in 2009, is a collection of episodes that depict the lives of different Iraqi women who try to live in the torn Baghdad of the post US invasion era. In episode 28, subtitled: Manner in Baghdad 2007, Al- Dulaymi portrays the effect of the chaotic state in Iraq on its people and how the crisis has turned fixed ethics and perceptions upside and down. Manar, a strong-willed Iraqi woman from Baghdad, who faced the long days of war with a self-determinism and courage, suddenly feels terrified when she receives a threat against her life because of the medicine from abroad that she sends around the hospitals to help the dying patients who cannot find their drugs since some medical staffs steal them and buy them on the street. She is accused by a militia group as an enemy collaborator. The author explains that this episode portrays two paradoxical images of Iraqi women: one who is a truthful and a brave doctor who refuses to give up her duty and stay at home even though her life is threatened, the other image is of a playful woman who tries to reveal her scandalous past by joining a militia group and turning into hijab and jilbab, however it is not only Manar who is threatened, her brother Rafid who is a respectable lecturer of science at an Iraqi university is threatened as well.
Al-Dulaymi’s novel not only depicts two types of females, but two types of males as well: Those good examples who undertake with the aid of women the responsibility to build up the human civilisation and are only biologically contrasted to femininity, and those who define their masculinity only through violence and killing, making even other males who oppose them as their targets. Al-Dulaymi intersects the present with the past in her attempt to tell a story of her city, Baghdad in the past and the present. She emphasises the voice of women in war through the female characters she depicts, and through the particular violence the Iraqi women faced in terms of threats, rapes and killings.
Cultural hybridity is another important thematic concern in Iraqi women literature, pinpointing the cultural and ideological clash between the East and the west. The uncompromising relationship between the orients and the occidents goes beyond politics and war. It examines culture, traditions, and the superiority/inferiority relationship between the two worlds. The struggle between the two opposing cultural identities is one of the issues that Batul Khudayri tackles in her novel A Sky So Close (2001) which tells the story of a girl born to an Iraqi father and a Scottish mother. The novel depicts a girl who grows- up at a village near Baghdad, between two worlds of conflicting values represented in the parents who disagree about the way they should educate their girl. The mother who is convinced of the superiority of her cultural background tries to take her daughter away from the backwardness of the Iraqi society that her daughter grows in. The oppression that is experimented upon the girl is practiced first by the mother who adopts a neocolonial attitude towards the people of their surrounding neighborhood, and second by the blowing up of war between Iraq and Iran, the death of the father and eventually the serious illness of the mother which oblige them to move to her mother’s homeland to receive medical treatment. Ikram Masmoudi argues that the author of A Sky So Close, “through the techniques of abstraction and representation, posits art as an antidote to war’s cynicism and destruction. Art, as an antithetical logic to war” (Masmoudi, 2015: 6).
Iraqi women writers appear to be documenting and narrating events and not producing an imaginary piece of work, it all comes from reality and it is all a reflection of the Iraqi realistic conditions. They feel this obligation to write about the different tragedies Iraqis faced, this is why they utilize the sub-narratives to tell their stories so the world could hear them and understand what they witnessed.
IV. Sculpturing Life and Death in Sinan Antoon’s The Corpse Washer:
Sinan Antoon(1967- ) is an Iraqi poet, novelist, filmmaker and assistant professor at New York University. He was born in Baghdad and studied English literature at Baghdad University before moving to the United States after the 1991 Gulf War. He did his graduate studies at Georgetown and Harvard where he earned a doctorate in Arabic Literature in 2006. His teaching and research interests lie in pre-modern and modern Arabic literature and contemporary Arab culture and politics. His essays and creative writings in Arabic have appeared in major journals and publications in the Arab world and in New York Times, Aljazeera.net, The Nation, Middle East Report, Journal of Palestine Studies, Journal of Arabic Literature, The Massachusetts Review, World Literature Today, Ploughshares, and Washington Square Journal. He is a member of the Editorial Review Board of the Arab Studies Journal and co-founder and co-editor of Jadaliyya. When interviewed by Dina Omar, a contributor to the Electronic Intifada, on 7th April 2010 Sinan Antoon argues that understanding what is going on in Iraq and the changes that have taken place in Iraqi society needs to understand the effects of Saddam’s dictatorship and the Gulf’s war1991. He says:
“one needs to remember that bombing a vibrant society with a large secular middle class back to the pre-industrial age and then imposing barbaric sanctions on it will produce pretty horrific circumstances. Then bomb them again in 2003 and dismantle what had remained of their society and its institutions and what does one expect? Yes, the wars and sanctions, designed supposedly to weaken Saddam, made the lives of Iraqis, his victims, more horrific”.(electronicintifada.net).
Antoon views creative writing through the intersection between art and politics. He proclaims that he has been always fascinated by writers and artists as the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish whose work maintains the highest aesthetic standards, but simultaneously has political import and relevance. Antoon’s novel The Corpse Washer, which means Almgasilchy in Iraqi dialect, is a bildungsroman that examines the conditions in Iraq at various historical decades through examining the moral and psychological progress of the protagonist Jawad since his early youth until maturity. It tackles the subject of washing and shrouding the dead and through it the genealogy of massive death in Iraq, from dictatorship to US occupation and civil war, capturing the experience of the Iraqi people who witnessed the war with Iran (1980-1988), the 1991 Gulf War over the Kuwaiti invasion, and then the 2003 war, examining their cultural, political and economic effects on people’s lives and perceptions.
Jawad is the son of a lower social class family in Baghdad. His father is a traditional body-washer and shrouded there. Jawad rebels against his father’ career and wants to be an artist and to move away from death, so he studies art at the academy and tries to forge his own path. In the 1990s and under the sanctions, he can only work painting houses and there isn’t much space for art amid all the destruction. In this last war his father dies and in order to make money, Jawad is forced to do the very same work he tried to run away from his whole life. He washes and shrouds so many corpses every day that he is traumatised and starts to have nightmares and is totally drained. So much of the novel is rumination about life and death and how one and if one can ever come to terms with all this death. He tries to leave to Jordan, but is denied entry and has to keep on washing the dead. Though the novel is set in Baghdad 2003, it follows the historical chronology of the Iraqi nightmarish situation. It examines death as a central metaphor which gives sense and meaning to the bitterness and brutality of Iraqi reality, however after the 2003 invasion of Iraq by American forces, Jawad’s story becomes one of greater death and loss. The author reflects the confusion of the war by blurring memories and dreams. Each chapter takes place in a different time period but continually returns to the present.
In A Journal of the Poetic Arts, edited by Klaus J. Gerken, Kevin Alexander Davis argues that the novel “is a powerful companion for anyone trying to understand the drama of post-2003 Iraq or of war in general”, he adds that Jawad’s story is one of deep sadness, chaos and confusion. The constant changes in time, the disconnected snippets of Jawad’s life, the constant loss and disappearance of characters and the haunting dream sequences make Jawad a very real character and his experiences understandable (qtd. In Suman,2011: 34). Jawad enters Baghdad’s Academy of Fine Arts in the late 1980s, in defiance of his father’s wishes and determined to forge his own path; however the circumstances of history dictate otherwise. The autocratic regimes and the economic sanctions of the 1990s destroy the socioeconomic fabric of society. The 2003 invasion and military occupation unleash sectarian violence. Corpses pile up, and Jawad returns to the inevitable washing and shrouding. Trained as an artist to shape materials to represent life aesthetically, he, ironically, now must contemplate how death shapes daily life and the bodies of Baghdad’s inhabitants. At the end of the novel Jawad has accepted his place as a corpse washer.
The moment of epiphany in the novel comes when Jawad suddenly perceives his spiritual manifestation, having turned away at the border with Jordan because single men are not allowed to cross. While waiting for his turn at the border Jawad sees the news on TV, Showing the eventual bombing and the scene of dead bodies. He wonders, with all the conflicted realities with which he struggles, who might tend the bodies. While his sense of vocational call in the moment might be muted, and is a call always caught up in the troubling reality of death, here, however, is a moment where Jawad sees his place in his world.
Antoon, throughout Jawad, disdains the rise of sectarian politics which has created a sense of distance between sectarian political groups and the population as a whole. Jawad says: “we are all victims of violence”. He historicises this development by pointing out the embargo, which had destroyed the social fabric, and now the void created by the occupation was being filled by these sectarian parties because they knew how to exploit the political climate. In one of the scenes in the novel two Sunni men come into Jawad’s business bringing him a burned corpse of a Shii man who had been killed in a car bomb. For days his body sat outside the wreckage, so the men decided to collect the corpse for washing. “God bless you. There are still good people in this world,” is all that Jawad replies (Antoon, 2013: 110). This emotional sense of popular unity and sympathy, despite the admission that the car bomb was an act of sectarian violence, shows that in chaotic times such lines are not as clear as they are made out to be.
At two different phases of his life Jawad becomes involved with a woman. Each relationship ends, not without love between Jawad and each woman, but without conditions that can lead to marriage. Jawad seems contained by the situations so much out of his control. He is stretched and distorted by the existential circumstances in which he finds himself. Reem is Jawad’s first love sends him a letter from Amman telling him that she and her family had left Baghdad because she was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed medical treatment. Her memory becomes the bond that takes him backward to his lost dreams and ambitions. The novel opens with Jawad narrating a recurring nightmare that he sees for weeks. Reem is lying naked on her back on a marble bench, in an open place with no walls and ceilings, as if it is the open space of immortality. Reem has the same beautiful face that he has ever known. Jawad looks at her with puzzlement, hesitating the world she belongs to: the living or the dead. He asks her what she is doing here and he wants to kiss her in order to regain the joys of his past life with her; however she refuses to let him kiss her and asks him repetitively, instead, to wash her first as if washing has become ironically the sole means of reuniting them:
– Don’t kiss me. Wash me first so we can be together and then…..
– What? You are still alive
-Wash me so we can be together. I missed you so much.
– But you are not dead!
– Wash me darling….so we can be together. (Antoon, 2013: 2)
Jawad starts washing her with the raindrops as it begins to fall down, then suddenly the dream is cloaked with blood when he sees some men wearing military uniform, driving a car in an “insane speed” stop near them and rush hurriedly towards them carrying their guns. They kick and drag him away without uttering a word. They kill Jawad savagely and drag Reem with them by her arms. This nightmare, symbolically, reflects death as a constant motif in Jawad’s life or an identity of him. Death is something Jawad is accustomed to. The second love affair Jawad has, with his cousin who has come with her family to live with Jawad and his mother. Over a succession of nights an emotional intimacy grows between them and eventually they become lovers. When it is time for her family to leave and for Jawad to step forward in one last opportunity to ask for her in marriage, he balks. This is a night-time relationship and cannot be sustained in something like ordinary life, the light of day. Death and Jawad’s duties toward the dead have overtaken him.
The novel concludes with Jawad sitting beneath a tree of pomegranate, listening to a nightingale sing, until it is scared away by the arrival of another corpse. He tells himself: “The living die or depart, and the dead always come. I had thought that life and death were two separate worlds with clearly marked boundaries. But now I know they are conjoined, sculpting each other. My father knew that, and the pomegranate tree knows it as well. He sighs with a melancholic tone: “I am like the pomegranate tree, but all my branches have been cut, broken, and buried with the dead. My heart has become a shrunken pomegranate beating with death and falling every second into a bottomless pit. But no one knows. No one. The pomegranate alone knows” (Antoon,2013: 152).
Iraqi narratives written in Western countries possess similar features to one another. They resemble each other by taking on very similar qualities and themes. Both the characters, men and women, appear to encounter similar problems. Iraqi writers nowadays attempt to cultivate the social realism that has been captivated in the sixties and seventeens of the twentieth century. They try to rebel against long years of silence which they lived in during the years of saddam Hussein’s regime.
Today, the literary Iraqi scene witnesses the emergence of several literary names that have been active in diaspora who were compelled to leave Iraq over the course of more than half a century; however recent Iraqi literature is also the product of the inside as well as it is of the outside. The Iraqi literature today attempts to create counter-discourses to Ba’thist and post-Ba’thist hegemony, aiming to redirect the course of Iraqi culture. Recent literary negotiations over the works of colonialism and postcolonialism in Iraq reveal an emerging reciprocity between the different literary generations inside and outside of Iraq. This reciprocity could acknowledge the collective history and trauma of successive wars and crisis there.
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