Inaam Kachachi: ‘What Hurts My People Hurts Me’

Last February, Mahmoud Hosny wrote, of Inaam Kachachi’s The Outcast, that “the past comes as an urgent visitor” in this historical novel, which is set around events in the 1940s. The novel has since been longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF):

The novel, set between Paris and Iraq, is based around real events. In an interview with IPAF organizers, Kachachi said that she finished this novel, at “a clinic outside Paris [where I was] being treated for breathing problems. I celebrated the novel’s completion with the nurses.”

This is third longlisting for the award; her novels The American Granddaughter (which was translated by Nariman Youssef) and Tashari (which won the ‘Prix de la Littérature Arabe’ in François Zabbal’sFrench translation) both have been previously shortlisted. Her debut novel Heart Springs appeared in 2005, and she has also published a biography, Lorna, about the British artist Lorna Hales.

Although An American Granddaughter is out of print, Kachachi also has a lovely short story, “Nude in Waziriyya of Baghdad,” translated by Rula Baalbaki and published in Arab Women Voice New Realities.

Ahead of the shortlist announcement, set for February 5, Kachachi also answered a few questions for ArabLit.

By Mahmoud Hosny

It’s been a long time since you left Iraq. I know you visit sometimes, but did living in France help you greating distance during your work on The Outcast?

Inaam Kachachi: I’m not sure. But when I think about your question, I feel that the distance could be both positive and negative. It’s positive, in that it allows the writer watch the “hot” scene from a quiet place and write without anxiety. But it’s also negative, because writing demands living experiences and interactions. But for me, it’s not necessary to put my hand in the fire to express its pain. What hurts my people hurts me.

I’m curious to know more about your writing process, or writer’s kitchen. How you organize the things? Do you use the same steps when writing as a journalist and as a novelist, or are they different?

IK: I’m overwhelmed inside the journalistic kitchen. Here the writer’s kitchen, as you call it, is in some way a luxury. Usually, I think about the novel during my evening relaxation, after I’ve finished my workday. I’m also careful to avoid boiling it too quickly, or dealing with the thing in a light way. When I feel it’s ready, I take from my sleeping hours, which I use to type and type. So my kitchen is in my mind, and all my novels go through the same process.

How would you describe your relationship with Arabic when you’re working on a novel? Which comes first: the language or the plot? Also, is there any interference between your Arabic and your French?

IK: First, there’s no interference between Arabic and any other language, because I write onlyin Arabic. Sometimes I borrow phrases from English or French, if the character speaks foreign languages. My relationship with Arabic is like a relationship between two old spouses: the longer I live with her, the more intimate it feels. But the plot or the theme is what comes in first, in my case, and the theme itself calls out its voice. It’s not my language, but rather is related to the linguistic level of the characters.

I know you have a good knowledge of the Arabic literary scene. Are works that you read that deserved to be in the longlist this year, but weren’t?

IK: I can’t answer this question, because it’s the publisher who sends the work to the award, not the author. I read Iraqi novels, and I enjoyed them, but I don’t know if they were in competition or not. Also, there are authors who refusing to be in these award competitions, and I respect their choice.

Translation by Mahmoud Hosny.

Previous interviews

Inaam Kachachi: ‘We Are Experiencing a True Upsurge in Iraqi Fiction’ (2014, with Al-Mustafa Najjar)

Inaam Kachachi on ‘Tashari’ and the Iraq She Carries With Her (2014, with Max Marin)


Mosul, the city with two springs, translator unnamed

Also read, interviews from the 2019 International Prize for Arabic Fiction longlist:

Iman Yehia and the Story of Yusuf Idris’ Marriage to Diego Rivera’s Daughter

Eritrean Novelist Haji Jaber: On Writing the Stories of the Falasha Jews

Habib al-Sayah: Cracking ‘the Shell of the Taboo Around Talking about Algerian Jews’

Reviews from the 2019 longlist:

‘Finally, Haji Jaber’s on an IPAF Longlist’

‘Me and Haim’: an Algerian Odyssey Through Racism

No Endings for Maysloon Hadi’s ‘The Brotherhood of Mohammed’

Hoda Barakat’s ‘The Night Post’

And the 2019 longlist:

2019 IPAF Longlist Features ‘Strong, Female-led Narratives’

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