Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tobacco Keeper

I didn't make it deliberately. I just bought another novel. Ali Badr is one of those writers whom the Iraqis treat with respect. Everybody knows that Ali Badr is the writer of that novel, "Baba Sartre". Even those who didn't read the novel, like me, would tell you that while tilting the head little down, opening the eyes wide, hanging the eyebrows up and making the sound more deep and slow and say it: "he is the writer of BABA SARTRE!!!". Which should means that he is a great writer and you should have known that. So I found a new novel of his entitled "Tobacco Keeper" and published this year, 2008. So I didn't buy it deliberately because it is about an Iraqi Jew!!!

Why Iraqi Jews are attracting our fantasies this much?

The novel was a magnet to my eyes. Since the first lines and I couldn't leave it. Look, it is about an Iraqi male violin player, married and having one son, Maier. After the 1948 he and his family were forced to leave Iraq because they are Jewish. He loves Iraq and wanted to go back. He left Israel and came to Iran where he changed his name and card of identity and married from an Iranian Muslim Shiite woman. They entered Iraq to have a son, Hussein, there. But they were forced to leave Iraq after some years because they are of "Iranian origins". He went to Syria, to have a new name and new card of identity and married to a Muslim Sunni woman and came back to Iraq to have his third son, Omar.
After 2003, his son Maier came with the US troops (Maier left Israel to the US and had the nationality there). His second son Hussein came from Iran having in his mind the ideologies of Shiite Islam and how should Iraq be ruled. His third son Omar represents the Sunni part of the equation.
When they came all together like that I laughed and thought I should tell you about them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

By the Rivers of Babylone

It is a novel about a male gynecologist who had a severe mental illness after aiding to terminate an illegal pregnancy under threatening. Sounds silly? But wait, Khalid Kishtainy is always choosing an indirect way to tell us many other things in one blow. Khalid Kishtainy's essays in Al Sharq Al Awsat (=Middle East) newspaper were my favorite after I discovered that newspaper as a special one among the 200 newspapers which entered Baghdad after 2003 with their vivid colors and attractive images.

His articles were brief but with multiple wise wide brush blows on those paintings. Paintings, from which, you can smell old Baghdad. Articles that you can live Ayam El Khair (=The Good Days) again with. Ayam El Khair is a radio weekly episode that lasts 5 to 10 minutes in Al Iraq Al Hurr (=Free Iraq) radio channel. It is an Iraqi radio channel that belongs to the Iraqi communist party, and was banned before 2003. When I was preparing for my first year exam in 2005, his program did give me hope to continue in spite of the deteriorating situation back then in Baghdad. Hearing his harsh alto voice, talking quietly about the good days of Baghdad, were one of the causes why I stayed believing in Baghdad.

So what about this gynecologist?

He is an Iraqi Jew. And Ooops the novel is not silly anymore! The novel is about his life in the 40s and the 50s in Iraq and then Israel. He developed mental illness after aborting a pregnant under the threat of her brothers to do so. The novel is now attracting me more and more! Her brothers wanted him to kill her. He said he did. He showed them the dead baby. They asked him to bury the woman (their sister), whom they call a sinner. She was not married and she became pregnant after a love story.

The gynecologist, Abdul Salam, developed a mental illness. His wife took him to Al Kifl in Babylon where the prophet Thu Il Kifl (=Ezekiel) grave is. Babylon in the novel? I adore it.

They had visited the old Babylon by their way of return to Baghdad.

The doctor's condition improved a little to deteriorate before they enter Baghdad. At the borders of Baghdad they saw people making a rally and shouting "death to the Zionists, death to the Jews, and death to all Jews".
At Baghdad he was taken to Jacky Shabi Abboud, the first psychiatrist in Iraq, and then admitted to Al Shamaya Hospital (=al rashad hospital). Al Shamaya is there too? God I love this novel. Inpatients there thought that he was a spy working for the Zionist and would document their secrets to Israel. They start to through trash on him. His wife was advised to take him out. She took him out and went to the marches, to pass to Iran illegally, and then to Israel.

In Israel the story continues but I won't tell you how.

I didn't tell you about Hassoon and Samera, nor about Baghdad college and Romeo and Juliet. To leave you with a little hope that you read the novel.

The novel contains brilliant descriptions to Iraq in the 40s and 50s. Contents of a typical Baghdad house, peoples' costumes, peoples' favorable themes to talk about, Baghdadi proverbs, Songs, Al Rasheed street, Al Sadoon street, Al Sufafeer market, King Faisal's square, Ezekiel's grave, Ezra's grave, Babylon, and many other things.
I read the novel while I was going to my job. In the minibus. It never made me feel tired from reading. It is a very clever brilliant novel. Thank you Khaled Kishtainy.

You can find in this link an article about the novel:

and Kaled Al kishtainy blog title is