The Stories of Luay Hamza Abbas

There are two stories by Luay Hamza Abbas in Banipal 37: Iraqi Authors, “The Pictures” and “Ali the Red,” and I think they’re well worth discussing. The prose—translated by the lovely, brilliant Maia Tabet*—is often striking, as in the opening to “The Pictures”:

There’s a kind of friend whose presence in the life of the group is as faint as a barely visible thread, fine and diaphanous as the lining of an old curtain that neither blocks the light nor impedes the wind.

Imagery like this can be found throughout the two stories: feet are burned in sands turned to rivers of fire; a movie kiss is swallowed up by the censor’s scissors; a smile hovers under a dead man’s mustache. The stories are slight, without clear rising and falling action, and so they rely heavily on these powerful images.

But the images never quite echo each other, never quite build on one another, so that the reader is left with an “almost” feeling: We have seen cards laid down, one after another, but ultimately there is no distinct, memorable connection.

In “The Pictures,” Yusuf—this friend who “neither blocks the light nor impedes the wind”—is set against women’s bodies in a girly magazine, and the narrator’s realization that the women’s real lives have no relation to their pictures.  In “Ali the Red,” an oft-repeated tale of Ali’s mother smashing a robber’s skull with a glass bottle is paired with Ali’s bullet-riddled head.

The last are similar images, yes, but it is unclear how they speak to each other in the narrator’s mind; and there’s little guidance as to how they might speak to one another in the reader’s.

Still, I am intrigued by Abbas’s stories, even if they leave me with a feeling that there is something they did not quite achieve.

*This is by way of admitting she’s a friend and objectivity cannot be expected.