Monday, August 26, 2013

Reading Iraqi Newspapers

An article published last Thursday named Plastic Palms in an Iraqi newspaper named Al-Aalem Al-Jadeed (= The New World) talks about those ugly plastic palms that the government had bought from outside of Iraq to decorate Iraqi streets. What breaks the heart is that those palms are not only ugly but their price is triple the price of real palms that the Iraqi farmer are ready to provide.

Another article in the same newspaper published last Sunday named Twereej Tobacco talks about an old story from the city of Twereej, the city of origin of the current Iraqi prime minster. The story says that on each side of the river that passes through the center of the city stands a man, the two men talk to each other:

- Hi brother, how are you?
- Fine, thanks to God.
- Brother, are you going to the market?
- No brother, going to the market?
- Good, if you are going to the market buy me some tobacco.
- No I am not going to the market!
- Me too, I am going to the market!
- No brother, me too I am not going to the market!

The writer says that this traditional story shows how the conversations between current Iraqi politicians go in circles betrayed by the language and distance.

There was an Iraqi politician who said before days that the terrorists had failed to target important targets. He said that after car bombs had caused many deaths of civilians. Car bombs had started to target streets in the morning filled with simple clerks going to their work. Last Tuesday, on the same newspaper, a column entitled On Whom Should We Shot the Guns gave a solution and that is every simple clerk should give half of his salary and stay at home, never going outside. The terrorist will not find on whom they can shot the gun and will finally leave.

Another article in the same journal last Wednesday was entitled The Martyrs' Demonstration in which the writer talks about her last night's dream in which she saw the Iraqi martyrs who died from car explosions making a demonstration demanding that the slogan of the Iraqi government should become that sonar device used allover Iraq to detect bombs.   

The older journal, Al Aalem (The World) which had stopped for a while and then reappeared is read widely through Iraq and today there was an article named The Tattoos of the Killers and The Signs of the Dead in which the writer asks whether the Iraqis need to re-use the tattoos widely. The tattoos was widely used by the Iraqis since not more than 60 years. The article talks about their anthropological meanings. Some are used to protect the body. Some to identify the body. The article talks about Cain who asked God to identify his body by a sign after he killed Abel, a sign that can protect from anyone who may want to kill him. The writer talks about the resemblance of some of the tattoos in old Iraqi females body to cuneiform writings and tried to link that to Sumerians. The writer says at last that there is much to say about tattoos in Iraq than in a single article and I remembered how tattoos served as an identifying sign of the dead bodies in Iraq.

I chose only two newspapers. There are many others. Clever writers trying to find words to describe their relation with their land.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Slipping by the Rye

I became aware since some time that I like the same kind of novels, the novels in which the main character is young, actually is a teenager like in "The Cather in the Rye" & "Les chercheurs d'os" or even a child like in "To Kill a Mockingbird" & "Le petit prince". Thanks to the wikipedia I knew that those kind of novels got a name in literary criticism and that is Bildungsroman, or more simply "Coming-of-age novels".

I remembered Eric Erikson's stages of development, particularly the two stages:
1. Identity Vs. Role confusion that occurs between 12 and 18, and
2. Intimacy Vs. Isolation that occurs between 18 and 35 years of age.
I thought how those stages might be applied to the novels of coming-of-age?

Thanks to that habit I practice since years (does anybody taught me that) of writing what I like to search about in Google images and got all those images about the subject, I typed "The Cather in the Rye" in the Google image search and found this:

It is a painting by an artist named Dave White and it pictures very good that paragraph that stayed in my mind more than any other paragraph from any other novel that I have read till now:

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all.  Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me.  And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff.  What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them.  That’s all I’d do all day.  I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.  I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.  I know it’s crazy.”

In that paragraph Holden Caulfield talks to one of the few persons in the novel that he likes, may be to the one whom he likes the most, it is to Phoebe, his sister. Can what he say be understood as a trial to protect Phoebe's childhood from going into that phony filthy adult world? 

Tahar Djaout's novel "Les chercheurs d'os (The Bones Searchers)" can be regarded as a Coming-of-age novel since the anonymous main character is 14 years of old and is questioning the honesty of adults and seeing them as phony. He is asked to go and seek the bones of the cadaver of his brother. That is after the end of the liberation war of Algeria in 1962. He doesn't believe that the villagers are really honest about wanting to bury his brother's bones inside the village. His brother was regarded as a rebel while all the older people stayed in the village during the war. And how they expect him to find the bones, he who had never left the village before?

An older man was asked to accompany him with a donkey and the trip started. It was a long journey during which he discovers what lies outside his village and he keeps remembering his days with his brother like that day when the French built a school and his brother was handled a book. It was the first time he held a book. Our anonymous character liked the pictures in the book:

"Many of the things in the book were unknown to us. It was hard for us to predict whether they are supposed to be used for eating, or for sitting on, or for traveling by. Regarding me I adored the horses above all. I was sitting for long hours in front of the book contemplating them and suddenly they would tear the boundaries of the page and kick off waking up the sleeping air of afternoon by their hooves, crossing the silent village then becoming light before disappearing in the whiteness of clouds..."

Near the end of the novel a man told them that he buried the bones of revolutionaries in a mountain. Our anonymous protagonist refused to take to bones of the first cadaver because there is a golden tooth and his brother doesn't have one. He refuses again to take the bones of the second cadaver because they seemed of an animal, maybe a dog. He kept silent in front of the third cadaver's bones and they took the bones back.

On their way back he contemplates on the phony world of the adult.
The anonymous main character of Djaout has slipped by the Catcher and went over the cliff as the horses in that book he liked went into the clouds. Has he get an identity? A role? Would that identity would be that of the frank man who likes to see to realities as they are without phonies, without faked flashiness, even if that means that his brother's cadaver is not found but isn't that better than bringing any cadaver saying that it is his brother's?

If he had knew his identity, the identity of the frank man who will discard phonies, how he would enter Erikson's phase of intimacy vs. isolation? Would he mix with people arguing his ideas trying to affect others or would he isolate himself?

We will not know that since the novel ends by the return to the village but the contemplation that these novels spark will continue.