Arab Writers in Translation Reading Group for August

by Mark Chmiel

On Wednesday 22 August, we will discuss Iraqi novelist Mahmoud Saeed’s short 2004 work, Saddam City.* We meet on the 4th Wednesday of the even-numbered months at the Center for Survivors of Torture and War Trauma, 1077 South Newstead Avenue in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood (63110).

We gather for a potluck dinner at 6:00. Fatima Rhodes will facilitate our discussion of the book beginning at 6:45.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the novel from the web-site Kutab: Reading into Arabic Literature:

One morning Mustafa Ali Noman, a teacher in Baghdad, was arrested as he reached the school gates. For the next fifteen months he was brutally interrogated, moved from prison to prison and barred from contacting his family; as he witnessed countless scenes of torture. It became clear to Mustafa along his journey through the desert gulags that the question of guilt or innocence was irrelevant. How do I know that I am not dreaming this? he asks himself, as, under intolerable pressure, his grasp of reality begins to weaken.

Here’s a passage from the novel that reminds me of Nawal El Saadawi’s Memoirs from the Women’s Prison:

Yet despite the exhaustion, restraints, and reduction of my humanity to the banality of a mere number, I found myself in a space suffused with human warmth. These men might have violated the laws of society or they might have been criminals from the point of view of the state, but I believed in their innocence partly because I knew my own and partly because they received me with open arms; I felt I was one of them. This conferred upon me the privilege of asking a favor.

Go here for more information on the author and novel.

Saddam City

*The literal translation of the title from Arabic is “I Am the One Who Saw.”

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