‘Iraq + 100’ Contributor Anoud on Writing Anger, Violence, and Comedy

As of this week, the short-story collection Iraq + 100 is available as an ebook. Soon, it becomes available in print as well:

iraq100The PEN-supported collection features writing that imagines the future — Iraq in 2103 — by the pseudonymous Anoud, as well as Hassan Abdulrazzak, Ibrahim Al-Marashi, Zhraa Alhaboby, Ali Bader, Hassan Blasim, Mortada Gzar, Jalal Hasan, Diaa Jubaili and Khalid Kaki.

As the collection launched, ArabLit sent a few questions to Anoud.

On the English PEN website, you write movingly about the origins of your story in the Iraq + 100 collection, “Kahramana,” which were apparently in a Heathrow encounter. Do your stories often start with such a dramatic germ?

Anoud: I would have to say yes. My biggest concern is that I am unable to observe the magnificence of mundane things in our daily lives, like for example Southern American writer Ellen Douglas, who can submerge me in a narrative about race issues in the south while setting the scene in a kitchen where two women are making jam. For me, it’s the other way around. I try to make the car bomb, the human flesh spattered on a wall, the hysteria and anger that has become Iraq feel like describing every day life. And I try to find moments of comic relief in that violence – because my friends tell me I need to give my reader a chance to breathe. I’ve lived through 3 wars in Iraq, countless bombs and airstrikes, Isis, and violence. This is all I know or notice to write about.

How do you see the relationship between anger and comedy? 

Without comic relief we’d explode into hatred, depression and god knows what else. The best way to handle life’s nasty is to laugh at it. You can’t stop a war but you can advocate to stop it. If I want people to listen, I know I need to get off my high horse as “bleeding heart humanitarian” and produce something entertaining. We’re all struggling though life whether you live in a small town in the US working two jobs and barely making ends meet or living in a refugee camp where water seeps into your tent in winter and you hardly have food to eat. People need comic relief. I remember the work of Lebanese filmmaker Dalia Al Kuri from 2008 “Smile you’re in South Lebanon” and how she made me laugh to tears then I instantly felt guilty because the topic was actually quite grim.

What did you discover about yourself (and Iraq, and stories) while attempting to write the future? 

That I had it in me to write in that genre. I’ve never used my imagination to create a new reality like in Kahramana. My imagination works in the sense that I’m good at describing sights, sounds and impressions of life as I live and see it. This is the first time I picture an imaginary universe and not one I’ve lived in and obsessively observed.

Do you see yourself writing SFF again? 

Now that it’s clicked in it, yes I think so. It’s still a step out of my comfort zone though.

How do you feel about this story being translated into Arabic, and the life it will have in another language?

I think it’s exciting. Literature, be it fiction or poetry is the most honest, if not the only honest, way to be exposed to other cultures. Yes there’s news and documentaries, etc. But reading the literature of another culture written by that culture, in a genre that lets the imagination run wild, will give one an inside perspective that is honest and has no agenda like news. In the end no writer wants to preach to his or her own choir and we all want to send our messages across to the universe.

Have you read the other stories in the collection?  Was there a moment that struck you?

I’m still reading through it, so I’d have to finish it before I answer that question. I’ve reached Ali Bader’s “The Corporal.” I find the moment the corporal was shot in the forehead and his relationship with his shooter to resonate with me. He doesn’t hold a grudge against the man who killed him, and, soldier to solider, compliments him for a good shot. I found that very strange and hard to digest – and I mean that as a compliment.