5 books to understand Iraq

This article is also available in: Italiano

A list of 5 books to understand Iraq and its dynamics with works that talk as much about history as about women and daily life

5 books on Iraq

Today I present to you a list of 5 books, 3 novels and 2 essays, themed on Iraq; 3 of these were released in 2023. In this list I mainly wanted to provide a summary of the latest publications that appeared on the Middle East and its surroundings, in order to give everyone the opportunity to recover very interesting texts which, for one reason or another , you might have missed it. However, I would also like to remember “Frankenstein in Baghdad” by Ahmed Saadawi, one of my favorite books about Iraq, as well as one of the very first books set in Iraq that I ever read. The order of this list is not of liking but chronological, I hope you like it; enjoy the reading!

“The Book of Collateral Damage” by Sinan Antoon

Namir, a young Iraqi scholar who earned 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 bookshops, where he meets Wadud, an eccentric bookseller who is trying to catalog everything that has been 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 fragments of the past and present of his homeland. Almost a “landscape exercise”, stylistically ambitious, between the wreckage of war and the power of memory.

The book of collateral damage

“The Book of Collateral Damage” è un libro davvero unico nel suo genere, in grado di catturare l’attenzione del lettore con un incipit brillante che poi, nel corso delle pagine, pare trasformarsi, acquisendo i tratti di una riflessione personale sull’Iraq e le sofferenze patite da chi da tale territorio è generato, non solo esseri umani, ma anche animali, cose e persino concetti. Infatti, se inizialmente pare una storia particolare ma abbastanza “classica”, con l’incedere del romanzo inizia a farsi strada il dolore, i sogni e gli incubi che popolano le menti non solo dei due protagonisti, ma di tutto questo immenso territorio.

“L’Iraq contemporaneo” edited by Riccardo Redaelli

Twenty years after the disastrous Anglo-American invasion of 2003, Iraq still appears like an incomplete puzzle: a state torn by deep ethnic-sectarian divisions and plagued by chronic political instability that fuels corruption and personal rivalries. Its fragilities have also made it an ideal battleground for regional powers vying for geopolitical primacy in the Middle East. Iraq is now the shadow of that ambitious state, created by Great Britain after the end of the First World War on the “land of the two rivers”, which for decades represented a point of reference for the Arab world.

The interpretative prisms through which to observe the country, however, cannot be only those of state weakness and security dynamics. The often dramatic events, the peculiar identities and the multiple artistic expressions of the communities that inhabit these lands give us back a rich and heterogeneous scenario, worthy of being told, read and explored. Moving from a historical, socio-political and cultural perspective, the volume tries, chapter after chapter, to piece together the many pieces, to answer complex questions, offering an unprecedented and multifaceted image of Iraq.

L'Iraq contemporaneo

The feature that I most appreciated about “Contemporary Iraq” is that of being a choral essay, the result of a collaboration between 15 different academics, each of whom is capable of best describing an aspect or characteristic of a place as incredible as it is unfortunate. . I find that this choice, especially for such a varied and internally divided country, is truly apt, as we will not limit ourselves only to the mere chronicle of its history (however very important), but we will also have the opportunity to delve deeper into issues that will help us to better understand its inhabitants. In fact, we will also come into contact with its cultural, literary and artistic history, as well as with the thousand-year-old communities that populate it, some of which, like the Assyrian one, date back to times that now seem forgotten to us.

“Il mio posto è ovunque” by Silvia Abbà, a book on Iraqi feminisms

Is there feminism in Iraq? From independence in 1932 to the protests of October 2019, through the years of Da’ish, the stories of Iraqi women speak of the courage to make their voices heard, of their determination to be what they want. Outside the interests of regimes and international actors, Iraqi women demonstrate where they belong: wherever they want.

Iraqi feminisms

“Il mio posto è ovunque” is the best book in Italian on Iraqi feminisms, capable of best showing us a category unjustly ignored in most analyzes of Iraq: women. The latter, despite making up a large part of the Iraqi population, are not only often ignored but, especially since the beginning of the war between Iran and Iraq, they are also constantly the target of politics and power dynamics within the country. With the outbreak of the 2019 uprisings, a light finally seems to emerge in the darkness, but where and on what basis do Iraqi feminisms begin? What do women in this country think today and what are their real conditions and problems?

“I`jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody” by Sinan Antoon

On August 23, 1989, the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior was informed that a manuscript was found in an archive during an inventory carried out at the headquarters of the Central Police Command in Baghdad. Scrawled in pencil, it turns out to be the diary of a young prisoner named Furat. From the manuscript we discover that he was a literature student and novice poet, gifted with a sardonic and corrosive spirit, arrested one beautiful day in April while he was looking at the Baghdad sky sitting on a bench waiting for Arij, his girlfriend. Furat recalls the nightmare of the regime’s prisons and, in parallel, his daily life until his arrest: adolescence, family, university, dictatorship, the Iraq-Iran war, football matches at the stadium, first loves. He talks about an impossible Iraq, where the regime is everywhere, in public and private life, of the hysteria of the Baathist dictatorship, so similar to our fascism. Only in the finale, set in an apocalyptic and deserted Baghdad, does hope seem to emerge, but perhaps it is just an illusion, a mirage.

I`jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody

“I`jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody” is a truly sweet and subtle novel that will allow you to discover more closely what it was like to live in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, showing not only historical facts or great events, but focusing above all on elements such as love, school and football and showing us how the latter, like a river, find a thousand and one ways to flow and show us their beauty. The surprising and at times moving feature of this novel is in fact observing how, despite such a ferocious dictatorship, there is still room for the sweetness of love and the desire for revenge typical of sport, elements that our protagonist will relive during every day of his imprisonment.

“Madman of Freedom Square” by Hassan Blasim

Imagine a man kidnapped and forced to declare on video that he had committed atrocious crimes in the name of religion. Or a trip of illegal immigrants headed to Europe that turns into carnage. Imagine a soldier who, having been locked in a room for several days with his beloved, feeds on her body and his blood to survive. Corpses that speak, werewolves, severed heads, torn or flayed bodies, fathers who poison their daughters, sons who carry their mother’s skeleton in their suitcases, dead people who write novels, suicides, car bomb explosions, neo-Nazis who in Europe beat the blood out of immigrants. And then madmen, madmen everywhere, and a blurred border between the real and the unreal. Try to imagine all this and more. Creepy images and thrilling scenes, like in the best gothic literature. But this is not simply gothic literature. This is Iraq. Or the Europe of Iraqi refugees.

Madman of Freedom Square

On a stylistic level, Hassan Blasim is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most important and characteristic pens in the entire Arab world and with “The Fool of Liberty Square”, his debut book, he shows us this in all its power. In fact, we will be catapulted into a new reality, made of blood, death, desperation and a lot of macabre fantasy. His stories combine the purest Gothic with the catastrophes experienced under Saddam Hussein, giving a completely new and tragic image of Baghdad and of Iraq; something that, while remembering the stories of Sinan Antoon in his “The Book of Collateral Damage”, carry within it all the darkness and abyss of the human race.

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