Cover of "Confessions of an Unashamed Mam"
An old flask moved through 2000 years from fathers to sons, sometimes after the father's death, but sometimes the son steals it, and during the final decades it left its homeland, Iraq, to a more modern country, Switzerland. He who owns the flask owns what is inside, Hajir, a naked woman who gives pleasure usually by sex, but sometimes by telling stories, and sometimes her man chose to talk to her or cry on her chest. Adam was the one who took the flask to Switzerland not knowing about Hajir. Adam that Iraqi who is married to Marlin, the Swiss, after discovering Hajir, started to take his flask to cheap hotels in rural areas to spend some time with Hajir. His lust for sex started to be accompanies with a lust to alcohol and marijuana.
The whole issue seems not that of a novel, more of a short story, a forgettable one, with bad use of symbols.
Generations in any stable country differ from each other and there are conflicts on some issues, but what about Iraqi generations. The differences are huge since the changes were huge and radical in Iraq history at least in the last 100 years:
1. Those who were born at the end of the 19th century and lived in the beginning of 20th century lived under the Othman empire rule and saw the English invasion and the start of Iraqi Kingdom. Don't know if anyone from this generation is still living but he is still living in the mind of his sons. They are our grandparents.
2. Those who were born under the Iraqi Kingdom lived to see its fall by that revolution of Abdul Kareem Qasim, the Ba'athist- Communist conflict and killing, 1963's killing of Qasim and the start of Ba'ath regime. The relatively calm 70s and the flourishing of art, the Iraq-Iran 8 years war (those who participate in this war are a generation by themselves for what they saw in this war had changed their values uniquely), the 1991 war and the starvation years of the embargo.
3. The generation of the 2003 war.
We, Iraqis of different ages, differ markedly in the core, in the beliefs and attitudes, in social norms and rules, in the understanding of history, and in things beyond my understanding and the scope of this post.
This is why it is important to read a novel, or an autobiography written by a fellow Iraqi from a different generation, from a different experience of Iraq.
Salim Matter is a name that you cannot ignore. That "Mesopotamia" journal which deals with the Iraqi identity crisis and stability was edited by him, with few other books about the Iraqi identity that is available in the Iraqi book market.
Photo 2. Mesopotamia Magazine issues
"The Woman of the Flask" is a novel of his. It doesn't worth much like his "Confessions of an Unashamed Man", his "psychological" autobiography as he calls it. He told us about his childhood in that poor quarter of Baghdad "Al Shakeryia", and how they go walking bare-foot in the summer to the river crossing in their way that rich quarter "Karradat Mariam" with its beautiful Armenian Church and how he wished that his parents were like these people in this quarter, clean and well dressed. He told us that he and his friends were crossing that quarter with caution and fear, but didn't explain more.They reach the river, under the Bridge of the Republic (Al Jamhoureya Bridge) and start to swim in Dijla.
He tell us about his emotional father with his mood swings between extreme violence against Salim, and then the extreme warmth and telling stories, and about his mother with her 13 pregnancies, (5 babiess died, 8 left including Salim) that didn't give her time for each of her sons and daughters individually. His father used to tell him stories about the prophets, mainly about Jesus, Moses and Ibrahim. Salim like Ibrahim especially. At the age of 5 he started to believe that God will send him an angel so that he becomes a prophet. Later, when he knew about Superman who came from a very far planet he started to train his physical abilities hoping that he one day can become a superman. His family helped his feelings of non-belongingness by making fun of him telling him that they found him when he was a baby in the nearby farm, and they took him and grew him up. Since childhood he worked with his father in the father's simple kiosk in Bab El Sharki where they sell sandwiches and drinks to the police men of the nearby jail and also to the families of the imprisoned who came to visit their sons and daughters. He loved the nearby living wealthy family's girl, Eman, and he liked their big house and dreamt that he is their son. His father was harsh on him sometimes and very violent. His rebellion on his father tuned to be a rebellion against God and later, this non-belonged man who always felt as a stranger as he says, joined the Communist party to belong to its big family. At the 1979 he left Iraq. The autobiography continues to tell us about his second part of life, and briefly about his return for a visit to Iraq after the 2003 war.
His "Confessions" tells about the contradictory messages his father used to give him, and about his ambivalent feelings toward his mother whom he thinks contributed to the development of his chronic guilty feelings. For a long time he was feeling guilty if he feels happy, he tells us about the "Guilty form Happiness" that he got, as if he must not be happy.
He hated his teachers at school, hence he joined his friends in running away from the school to the nearby cinemas where he loved to watch emotional Indian movies. Later, when became a communist, he started to deal with cinema more seriously.
Selim Matar publishes a film of his "Confessions" on his site:
While "the Woman of the Flask" is a boring novel, Salim's Confessions is such an original work written with good insight, and after reading the confessions you might got some empathy to his earlier novel. Thank you Salim Matar for all what you have done. Your works helps to make the Iraqi identity more understandable.