Post-2003 Iraqi Literature in Translation

At the request of a reader (sorry this took me so long!), these are not just books by Iraqis published post-2003 (which would obviously include Mahmoud Saeed’s Ben Barka Lane, Fadhil al-Azzawi’s Last of the Angels, Samuel Shimon’s An Iraqi in Paris, Hadiya Hussein’s Beyond Love, and even The Art of Party-crashing in Medieval Iraq), but literary works that specifically comment on the post-2003 landscape:

Yes, it’s a long list compared to books translated from the Chinese, for instance, but compared to the output about post-2003 Iraq in English, it’s ridiculously short.


1982088_10152062820362881_2110522337_nHassan Blasim 

The Madman of Freedom Square (Comma Press)
The Iraqi Christ (Comma Press)
The Corpse Exhibition (Random House)

All these are trans. Jonathan Wright.

Blasim will be the first to say that he has “deliberately ignored stories of American soldiers, the kind that appear in Iraqi and American literature and art, either as heroes, victims, or criminals.” But that doesn’t mean — by any stretch! — that Blasim isn’t interested in post-2003 Iraq. He just prefers, as he said in an interview with Barnes & Noble, telling the story of the Iraqi “ambulance driver” to that of the “American soldier.” “The U.S soldier has returned home while the ambulance driver remained, picking up bodies from the pools of blood in Baghdad to this day. Of course the American soldier has his story, and that is what Hollywood is interested in; Hollywood isn’t interested in the Iraqi ambulance driver. Nevertheless the impact of the disastrous U.S occupation of Iraq is present in my stories, even without direct reference to the American violence.”

Inaam Kachachi

The American Granddaughter (BQFP), trans. Nariman Youssef

This International Prize for Arabic Fiction-shortlisted novel is a rather hasty contribution (Iraqi-American goes to work as an interpreter in Iraq, caught between conflicting allegiances), but has some moving moments between Iraqi-American granddaughter and grandmother.

Sinan Antoon

1corpse0728The Corpse Washer, trans. the author (Yale University Press)

This novel, like Blasim’s Iraqi Christ, is longlisted for the 2014 International Foreign Fiction Prize. As I wrote earlier: “This original title drives at the heart of the novel, which – although much of it takes place during the violent US occupation era – is not marked by anger or violence, but by a melancholic loneliness. This is the time in Iraq’s history, the narrator says, when, ‘Everyone in Baghdad felt like a stranger in his own country.'”

Baghdad Blues, trans. the author (Harbor Mountain Press)

This short collection came out in 2007, and address Baghdad before and after 2003. In the publisher’s words, these “poems…are not quite the thin trails they would appear to be. Antoon’s line, although lyrical, is packed with the absence and fury which ought to make us shake a fist at the skies. If it were only the sky’s fault.”

From “Wrinkles; on the wind’s forehead”

the wind was tired
from carrying the coffins
and leaned
against a palm tree . . .

Ali Bader

The Tobacco Kiosk, trans. Amira Nowaira (BQFP)

From an AL interview with Bader: “Unfortunately yes, the American discourse comes from the western logo-centrism, and it is pivoting on itself. There is the Iraqi victim, but it is silent. So I tried to tell the story from the silent spots in American corpus, which is a tale of a gifted person find him self on the fringe of modern Arab history, a man whose life dramatizes the ordeal of his country by cultural requiem.

“It is different from the American story, but it is also different from Arab and Iraqi story, which always blames the West, imperialism, Israel, etc. It is at once about the history of the Middle East, the debates of its people, the fate of its hopes, and a personal inquiry into the world of my generation, as Arabs, liberal, Muslims, those influenced by Western culture.”


Book Wings Iraq (IWP)

This collection, published as a PDF by the University of Iowa’s International Writers Program, includes work by Hassab Allah Yahya (“Train of Death”), Ammar Ali (“My Right”), Amir al-Azraki (“Courage”), and Iraqi-American Heather Raffo (“Shelter Drills”).


41IHy4YP8WL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Saadi Youssef

Nostalgia, My Enemy, trans. Sinan Antoon and Peter Money (Graywolf)

Antoon said in an interview that he read Youssef’s work “religiously,” and “what was of interest to me (after 2003)…in terms of poetry, was how a major poet, the major poet of Iraq, would write about a country that was disintegrating before his eyes.”

Amal al-Jubouri

Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation, trans. by Rebecca Gayle Howell with Husam Qaisi (Alice James Books)

This book was shortlisted for the 2012 Best Translated Book Award, and translator Rebecca Gayle Howell said, “For this particular collection, I love how the Arabic and English poems seem to stand side-by-side, as if in solidarity. ‘The opposite of war.’ Exactly.”

Dunya Mikhail

Iraqi_Nights_300_450The Iraqi Nights, trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid. New Directions.

In an interview with AL, Mikhail said: “The poem’s title is a reference to Scheherazade’s ability to save herself through stories in The Arabian Nights. I began writing the main poem of the manuscript after my niece was kidnapped while walking home from a market in Baghdad. She was pulled from her mother’s grasp, dragged into a car, and has not been heard from since. Some of the sections are visual, with illustrations that are inspired by the ancient Sumerian tablets. Although the setting is Baghdad, the theme is universal.”


Iraq + 100 (Comma Press)

Banipal 37: Iraqi Authors (Banipal)

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here (PM Press)


I am surely missing many; these are a few:

Mahmoud Saeed’s “Lizards’ Colony,” trans. William Hutchins

Muna Fadhil’s “Air Raid”

A Deadly Joke, “Diya al-Jubaily”

Luay Hamza Abbas’s “Ali the Red,” trans. Maia Tabet

“A Portrait of an Iraqi Person at the End of Time,” by Sargon Boulus, trans. Sinan Antoon

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