“The book of collateral damage” by Sinan Antoon

This article is also available in: Italiano

“The book of collateral damage” is a truly unique book of its kind and able to make us experience the same sensations experienced 20 years ago by the Iraqi people at home and beyond; a sort of “Iraqi memory”

The book of collateral damage

Namir, a young Iraqi scholar who received his doctorate from Harvard, is hired by filmmakers to document the devastation of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During an excursion to Baghdad, Namir ventures to al-Mutanabbi Street, famous for his bookstores, where he meets Wadud, an eccentric book dealer who is trying to catalog everything destroyed by the war: from objects, buildings, books and manuscripts, flora and fauna to human beings. Namir remains obsessed with Wadud’s archive and, looking back on his life in New York, discovers how deeply it is intertwined with the fragments of his land’s past and present. Almost an “exercise in landscape”, stylistically ambitious, between the wreckage of war and the power of memory.

A one of a kind book

“The book of collateral damage” is a truly unique book of its kind, capable of capturing the reader’s attention with a brilliant incipit which then, over the course of the pages, seems to transform itself, acquiring the features of a personal reflection on Iraq and the sufferings endured by those who are generated from this territory, not only human beings, but also animals, things and even concepts. In fact, if initially it seems a particular but quite “classic” story, with the progress of the novel the pain, dreams and nightmares that populate the minds not only of the two protagonists, but of all this immense territory begin to make their way.

The Book of Collateral Damage

Alongside Namir’s memories we will in fact be able to find Wadud’s ravings and many nameless and faceless phrases that seem to recall mystical echoes that seem to come from the Iraqi land itself and from its lifeblood which, although wounded, continues to breathe, albeit very with difficulty. Precisely because of these multiple dimensions of both style and thought, it is really complicated to define “The archive of collateral damage”, which is a book different from all the others and can be placed side by side, so as to become a sort of real memory Iraqi, not very dissimilar from what Wadud himself collects in the novel.

Memory for and of Iraq

Personally I have to admit that I’m quite ignorant about recent Iraqi history, but this book just goes to shake the thoughts and memories of its readers, trying to make us experience what millions of people feel and have felt in the darkest moments of this country. Namir’s memoirs counterbalance the thoughts of Baghad, providing us with both the vision of those who experienced all these events firsthand and those of those who, as in the case of the narrator, heard them told by those who, with their army, brought death and destruction to these lands.

The Book of Collateral Damage

A truly well-written text which, by specific decision of the author himself, chooses to be at times chaotic, almost incomprehensible, just like the memories of those times are in the minds of many Iraqis, a subtle stifled scream that makes its way into the mind of the reader. A unique book, a sort of literary experiment that I’m sure will be appreciated by anyone who wants to experience the same sensations experienced by the Iraqi people, even more than stories.

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