10 Iraqi Short Stories for the Shortest Day of the Year

Ten short stories for the shortest day of the year:

“The Mulberry Tree,” by Salima Saleh, trans. William Hutchins

My city—Mosul—was economical even in its delights.

“Don’t Put Your Elephant In Your Luggage,” by Mortada Gzar, trans. Katharine Halls

At arrivals at O’Hare, a man opened his bag at customs, and a large black elephant stepped out.

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

Why did it look pale blue in the morning? Distant white clouds were threatening rain. She wished she hadn’t committed the great folly of accepting employment with them.

“Prisoner of War” by Muna Fadhil

Sahira was standing in the doorframe, watching her father grow transparent as the morning sun glowed in her bleach-white kitchen. He sat at the marble table, gutting a radio transistor. The sun washed right through him. Sahira reached out for him, but Saleh shrugged away and disappeared like a mirage against the white walls.

“A Deadly Joke,” by Diya al-Jubaily

Jaws clenched, faces paled, and the silence was so heavy that I began to make a mental inventory of the events of my life to have something to hold on to before the bomb went off, but I couldn’t think of a thing.

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

It was indeed Ali, Ali the Red – not because he was ever a Communist, but because during the second year of middle school, the last of his formal education, the moniker stuck – as if the sole purpose of middle school for him had been to earn the nickname rather than do any learning.

“Yusif’s Tales,” by Muhammad Khudayyir, trans. Shakir Mustafa

When we reconstructed the city after the war, we set aside a plot of land one by two kilometres overlooking the river. On that we built the printing house. We raised its twelve stone tiers so that visitors would see it polished and glittering in sunlight next to the massive marble city towers.

The One-eyed TV,” by Muhsin al-Ramli, trans. Yasmeen Hanoosh

Just as the thirteenth year of my life started, the Iraqi-Iran war began. Before it was even a year old, my oldest brother was killed and one of my cousins was taken as a prisoner of war. That is when I began hearing my father curse “Mr. President” whenever he found himself alone with my mother in the orchard, kitchen, or bedroom, or as she milked our cows in the pen.

The Green Zone Rabbit,” by Hassan Blasim, trans. Jonathan Wright

Salsal lit another cigarette and gave my rabbit an ironic smile.

What the Storytellers Did Not Tell,” by Lutfaya al-Dulaimi, trans. Shakir Mustafa

“Good bye, then. You can’t understand my argument. I’m tired of what I have seen and heard from men.”

Also: For those looking for an anthology, I recommend Contemporary Iraqi Fiction, ed. Shakir Mustafa