For the time being, I’m going to skip over the rest of the Iraqi literature in Banipal 37 and head straight to a discussion of “Ammetis, the Sleeper.” This is because—while I know that I’ll be able to read Mahdi Issa al-Saqr’s East Winds, West Winds—I’ve already begun to despair of ever reading Moroccan-Dutch author Rachida Lamrabet’s Een Kind van God, from which “Ammetis, the Sleeper” is taken.
My despair stems from these three facts:
1) I will never, never, ever read Dutch.
2) Says translator Edith Grossman: “The sad statistics indicate that in the United States and the United Kingdom, for example, only two to three percent of books published each year are literary translations.” (That’s as opposed to 35%-ish in Europe and Latin America and who-could-say what percent in Egypt.)
3) Short story collections are—as I understand it—even less popular with Americans than poetry.
All this makes me despair because “Ammetis, the Sleeper” is really wonderful, one of those stories that shakes you out of your lethargy and makes you look again. It’s the sort of story you could photocopy for all your friends and give them on Mother’s Day, as it’s a fresh, yet ultimately hopeful, look at the parent/child relationship.
Well, your female-parent friends. You wouldn’t want to give this to your childless-male friends on Mother’s Day.
At times, the story’s language is a little looser than I would like, but it’s hard to know if that comes from Rachida’s Dutch or the translator’s English. And yes, I admit, the conversation between the mother and her fetus at the end is a little banal, but the effect is still so lovely that I don’t care. My favorite moment, between the mother and her “sleeping” fetus (from the point of view of the fetus):
She stroked me softly, and I felt like nudging my head against her hand, like a kitten.
Perhaps, though, stories will yet see a resurgence. One can, after all, listen to them on the road, as discussed on the Guardian books blog.