Book review: The Traveler and the Innkeeper, Fadhil al-Azzawi

From my review in Al Masry Al Youm:

Fadhil al-Azzawi’s The Traveler and the Innkeeper treads much the same ground as his 1972 novel, Cell Block 5. The earlier book has been called the “first Iraqi prison novel,” and much of the action of The Traveler and the Innkeeper, written in the mid-1970s, also takes place among political prisoners and police. Both novels draw on the acclaimed novelist and poet’s own experience in Iraqi jails.

Yet The Traveler and the Innkeeper steps away from Cell Block 5 in that it focuses not on the jailed, but on the jailers.

In so doing, al-Azzawi’s novel provides an unusually sympathetic portrait of a secret police inspector named Qasim Husayn. The portrait is fictional. But the book’s new preface, written in October 2010, adds a layer of memoir. In the preface, al-Azzawi tells of how he was arrested while in university for the crime of having English-language books in his apartment. He was tortured and nearly killed. As he sat “cringing in a cell,” one of his closest childhood friends, who had become a police inspector, passed by. This police inspector, also named Husayn, said, “Didn’t I tell you, Fadhil, you were heading down the wrong road?”

Keep reading.