Why Iraqi Author Abbas Khider Writes in German

Today, Turkish paper Today’s Zaman features Germanophone Iraqi author Abbas Khider, who was honored this year as a runner-up for Germany’s Adelbert von Chammisso Award. According to the award website, the Adelbert von Chammisso is: “open to authors whose mother tongue and cultural background are non-German and whose works make an important contribution to German literature.”

Khider received a €7,000 Euro prize.

Abbas Khider has thus far published one novel in German, Der falsche Inder (The Fake Indian), which came out in 2008. His second novel in German is set to be published in February of next year.

Khider told Today’s Zaman that he thought, when he was about 14, that he would become an imam because he was a good talker. But his plans changed one day when he went to a market in Iraq and met a bookseller.

I told him that I wanted to be an imam and he gave me a book to read: ‘The Prophet’ by Khalil Gibran. After I read that book, I changed my mind. I loved the poetry in the book and I wondered how a human being could write such a beautiful book. I realized that there could be other ways to express myself. I began to lean towards literature rather than the idea of becoming an imam. Since then, I’ve been reading and writing non-stop.

Khider has published two collections of poetry and one volume of essays in Arabic. He also has done readings of Der falsche Inder in Beirut and elsewhere, for which he has translated at least sections of the novel into Arabic. However, as far as I know, a full-length Arabic version is not available.

Khider told Today’s Zaman “I’d never thought to write in German.” But then:

One day, students at the university came and told me that I wrote poems but that they couldn’t understand a word since they were in Arabic. So they told me to write in German. I replied, ‘Why should I write in German, why don’t you learn Arabic instead?’ Later on I thought about this and I wrote a story in German and sent it to seven friends of mine. I wanted them to say one of two things: either ‘Abbas, go on writing in German’ or ‘Abbas, stop writing in German.’ They all gave a positive answer. So, I wrote my first novel.