by Leonie Northedge

Saddam City

by Mahmoud Saeed (Saqi Books).

A classic account of senseless brutality under Saddam Hussein, this is a fictional counterpart to Kanan Makiya's Republic of Fear. Often compared to the works of Kafka and Solzhenitsyn, Saddam City tells the story of innocuous schoolteacher Mustafa Ali Noman on his 15-month journey through the dungeons of the Baathist regime. Once inside the system, the question of guilt or innocence ceases to matter. Saeed himself was imprisoned several times, before escaping to exile in America.

The Corpse Washer

by Sinan Antoon (Yale University Press).

The trauma of recent Iraqi history is seen through the eyes of young Jawad, a Baghdad Shia born into a family that prepares bodies for burial. Jawad tries to escape the trade, firstly by studying art and then by emigrating, but events draw him back to the family's mortuary, which ironically becomes an oasis of humanity in a city of crazy violence. Antoon, also a poet, turns what might have been a morbid tale into a lyrical meditation on fate and man's humble place in the world.

The Madman of Freedom Square

by Hassan Blasim (Comma Press).

Short stories by a maverick Iraqi filmmaker with a surreal approach to his homeland. Like many of the best-known Iraqi writers, Blasim lives in exile, in his case in Finland, and some of his best stories reflect aspects of the hardships that refugees face on their journeys across Europe in search of security. Blasim covers kidnappings, sectarian violence, the Iran-Iraq war, the horrors of Saddam's reign and dysfunctional family life in provincial Iraq during times of turmoil. Some stories are not for the faint-hearted.

The Tobacco Keeper

by Ali Bader (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing).

Ali Bader is one of the most prolific Iraqi novelists to emerge in the 2000s. The Tobacco Keeper gives a panoramic view of 20th-century Middle East, tracking the career of an Iraqi Jewish violinist who travels in a variety of guises and ends up dead in the Tigris. The Independent called the book 'a corrective to the impression that there wasn't any more to Iraq than decades of brutal Baathism'.

The Last of the Angels: A Modern Iraqi Novel

by Fadhil al-Azzawi (AUC Press).

This acclaimed novel, set in the northern city of Kirkuk in the years leading up to the Baathist takeover, mixes comedy, satire and magical realism. It is full of strong characters and picaresque anecdotes.

The American Granddaughter

by Inaam Kachachi (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing).

In a more populist vein, Iraqi journalist Kachachi tells the story of an American-Iraqi woman of Assyrian parentage who goes back to Iraq as an interpreter for the US invasion force and re-establishes contact with her grandmother who has stayed behind through the Saddam years. The book explores the conflicting loyalties and the clash of cultures, without moralizing or polemics.

Jonathan Wright is a translator of Arabic literature


© By Joel Brinkley, "Jonathan Wright's Iraq Reading List"


Jonathan Wright's Iraq Reading List | News of the Middle East