Christmas Gifts? Recommended Iraqi Literature, New in English 2008-09

The Last of the Angels, Fadhil al Azzawi, Free Press, 2008

This book, by al-Azzawi, is full of appealing, over-the-top black comedy as well as those moments when comedy no longer bridges the space between reality and reader.  For the lover of bleak, pitch-black comedy.

My review on Quarterly Conversation.

Cell Block 5, Fadhil al Azzawi, AUC Press 2008.

This novella, also by al-Azzawi, is a meditation on prison. Sometimes, the world around becomes too difficult to see–we are deep inside the prisoner who doesn’t know why he’s been arrested–but there are wonderful moments, of hope and disappointment and the banalities of prison life. For the fiction reader who also is interested in recent Iraqi history.

Read an excerpt on Words Without Borders.

Basrayatha: Portrait of a City, Muhammad Khudayyir, Verso 2008

Khudayyir’s Basrayatha will probably never be made into a Hollywood film, although his time-lapse views on the city of his birth–Basra–offer a unique vision on both this city in southern Iraq and on the nature of cities.

The primary appeal of this memoir/novel is not its plot–it doesn’t have one, really–but its thick descriptive language, its constructions and reconstructions of a city, and its movement through real and imagined Basras. For the cerebral reader.

My review on Quarterly Conversation.

Contemporary Iraqi Fiction: An Anthology, Syracuse University Press, 2008; AUC Press, 2009

This collection is full of gems from the aforementioned Muhammad Khudayyir , Jewish-Iraqi writer Samir NaqqashSamuel Shimon, and others.

I look at each of these in brief. For anyone who likes to check out a variety of new writers, and for lovers of the short form.

And Iraqi-lit stocking stuffers from way back in 2005:

Absent, by Betool Khedairi. I wrote a review-essay about my love affair for this book—and subsequent desire to visit Baghdad (unrealized, of course) for New Orleans Review. Unfortunately, they don’t post or archive anything online.

An Iraqi in Paris, by Samuel Shimon. Reviewed here by Fadhil al-Azzawi.

All right, neither of these will fit in a stocking. But the following will:

I’jaam, by Sinaan Antoon. A small, sometimes incisive exploration of the way life can be hemmed in by various forces, and how we can find spaces to breathe. If the person on your list likes Iraqi prison narratives….

Also: Life goes on in Iraq for poets, novelists, and other art lovers. A number recently braved bomb threats to go see an outdoor film. And you can read a NYTimes blogger on his interview with an Iraqi English professor and aspiring novelist.