It was ten years ago today — March 19, 2003 — that US forces entered Iraq:
“My fellow citizens,” George W. Bush said in a televised address, “at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.”
Yes. You know the rest.
In an article in this week’s The National, Saul Austerlitz observes that there are “Plenty of factual books on the invasion of Iraq, but surprisingly few novels.” Factual, of course, with a grain of salt.
And yet in the last 10 years, there have been novels; some hasty (such as Inaam Kachachi’s The American Granddaughter), some more well-developed.
There are a number of recent Iraqi novels that have not yet been translated, such as Muhsin al-Ramli’s The President’s Gardens, Abdul Hadi Sadoun’s The Diary of Iraqi Dog, Sinan Antoon’s Ave Maria (all 2012). But there are already a number of works, brought into English or soon to be in English, that respond to post-2003 Iraq.
(1) Ali Badr’s The Tobacco Keeper (trans. Amira Nowaira). This book ranges over the past 50 years, and is centered in the past, but begins in the post-2003 world of destruction and destruction-themed journalism, grappling with both.
(2) The collection Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here (ed. Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shaabi, trans. various). Some of the poems and essays here predate 2003, but many engage with the 2007 bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street, written by poets from the US, UK, Iraq, Palestine, and elsewhere. Not every poem sings, but a great deal of beautiful, important work here.
(3) Sinan Antoon’s The Corpse Washer (trans. Sinan Antoon, forthcoming summer 2013) and his Ave Maria (forthcoming 2014/2015?).
(4) Amal al-Jubouri’s Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation, trans. Rebecca Gayle Howell. This collection pairs moments, places, and objects in Iraq with their state “before” and “after” the occupation. (Q&A with the translator.)
(5) Saadi Youssef’s Nostalgia, My Enemy (trans. Sinan Antoon and Peter Money). Most of the poems here are post-2003. Not all address Iraq, but they are all worth an afternoon, an evening, a cup of tea, a read and re-read.
(6) Hassan Blasim’s The Iraqi Christ (trans. Jonathan Wright). This is a collection of stories about the perils of storytelling, while also being about Iraq. In the opening work, “The Song of Goats,” hundreds line up outside a radio station for a chance to tell their personal horrors on-air.
(7) Dunya Mikhail’s The War Works Hard. The titular poem is here.
(9) Mahmoud Saeed’s short story “Lizards’ Colony,” published in World Literature Today, is a difficult but vivid read about torture and humanity.
(10) Perhaps one of the books I’m most looking forward to in 2014 is Comma Press’s Iraq 2103, ed. Hassan Blasim and Ra Page. These promise to be stories about Iraq set 100 years after the invasion. Each story will be set in a different Iraqi city, written by an author who is currently living in Iraq.
Also: Banipal 37 was dedicated to writing from Iraq. A number of the stories, novel excerpts, and poems were new. You can buy the magazine; you can also read a bit of work by poet Bassim al-Ansar online.