On Monday, Iraqi novelist Saad Mohammed Raheem (1957-2018) — whose third novel, The Bookseller’s Murder, was shortlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction — died at 61 at a hospital in Sulaymaniyah:
The author was born in the Diyala province in Eastern Iraq in 1957 and worked as a teacher and journalist.
He published six collections of short stories, a number of political and literary studies, and three novels: Twilight of the Wader (2000), which won the 2000 Iraqi Creativity Award for Fiction; The Song of a Woman, Twilight of the Sea (2012); and The Bookseller’s Murder (2016), which was shortlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
Raheem also won a prize for “Best Investigative Journalism” in Iraq in 2005, the 2010 “Creativity Prize for the Short Story” for his 2009 collection Almond Blossom, and won a Katara prize in 2016.
Raheem also wrote political and literary theory, but he believed in the role of the novel as a tool of cultural enlightenment; this was the subject of his final tweet.
Raheem also believed in constantly bettering himself as an author. In a 2017 interview, Raheem said, “Some people become arrogant after winning a prize. But I will live in worry over the question of whether my next book will be better.”
IPAF organizers also published a brief English extract from the novel:
“You’re like the sleepers of Ephesus when they woke up in another age,” I said. “You’ll find that your old currency is now worthless. The book trade is dead. It’s wonderful of you to open a bookshop here but don’t expect to make a profit.”
He wasn’t convinced. He didn’t believe that after all the wars had worn them down people had given up reading, and then that sanctions would come and people would no longer go to theatres, cinemas or art exhibitions. One day I said to him: “Take bread and theatre. Bread is now so rare that people can hardly find any, so who would think about theatre or art?” I suggested he go into seclusion and take up drawing again. No harm in having a small bookshop to pass the time. “All a writer needs is a pen and some paper and that doesn’t cost much,” I said. “But painting needs money, to buy paint, brushes, canvas, frames and other equipment. And you invest some of the money you have in your artistic production.” “If people no longer need books,” he said: “why would they need my paintings?” I explained that there was a wealthy class that bought paintings and hung them in their fancy living rooms, as well as foreigners who went to the galleries in Baghdad and bought good paintings at reasonable prices.
“I’ll think about it,” he said, but he didn’t do it. He opened a large bookshop and lost money. He closed it down and moved his books to the basement of the building that his uncle owned. I think you know the rest of the story.