Ten Years Later, ‘Contemporary Iraqi Fiction’: What Changes, What Stays the Same

SM:   One book I like to see translated is Muhammad Khudayyir’s “Facial Gardens” حدائق الوجوه​, ​in which he perfects the tradition of blurring lines between reality and fiction, biography, autobiography, and fiction in the fashion he pioneered in Basrayatha.​
I am a big fan of Basrayatha,   and I’m sure I sought it out because I discovered Khudayir in your collection. Shakir Mustafa. Shakir Mustafa is a teaching professor of Arabic at Northeastern University. This collection of thirty-odd stories and novel excerpts was the proximate cause of ArabLit, and is now being reissued as a paperback:
In celebration of the re-release, Mustafa answered a few questions about the collection, ten years on. There’s more interest in Vietnamese matters in the States now, so perhaps in a generation or so, Americans might be more willing to look at Iraq away from the blunders of the past.​
You also use excerpts from novels… For instance, a section from Abdul Rahman Majeed al-Rubaie’s The Tattoo. ​Shakir Mustafa:   Yes. When I got in touch with Samir Naqqash, he told me it has already been translated, but he was such a generous human being and told me to go ahead and translate it. SM:   I’m as surprised as you are! and tr. SM:   These are writers and works deserving of attention. It was a thrill to see William Hutchins’ translation of Basrayatha after I published my translated excerpts. If you were going to teach with it, what would you want to bring out, where would you want to direct students’ attention, what questions would you want them to ask? SM:   I have used the collection in my Intro to Arab Culture course, and students like numerous stories. And in class, I tend to forget that I translated these stories — it has been a while! If you were going to revise the introduction in 2018, ten years later, is there anything you would add to your comments for the 2008 edition? ​SM:   Yes, thanks to numerous websites, I can find fiction as soon as I become aware of it, or as soon as it is published. Although I have study questions for a number of them, students always find ways to look at things I haven’t thought about, the way they do​. I remember reading “Yusuf’s Tales” the day it appeared in a newspaper in Iraq and I was moved by it in a way not unlike the way the English version moved you.​ ​I decided then to translate Muhammad’s works when I was capable. The last time I corresponded with Al-Rubaie, probably ten years ago, he told me the novel appeared in a Tunisian 6th edition. Muhsen al-Ramli and Hassan Blasim are among those worth translating.​
If you could add more short stories that you’ve come across in the last ten years, what would they be? In translation studies, choice of text is still a source of endless debate. Has The Tattoo since been published in Iraq?​
SM:   That decision, at least in part, was due to the intention of introducing more writers, and there were those that I liked more as novelists rather than short storytellers.​ I also though of sharing texts with readers of English. Do you think they function differently? I would think US classrooms would be filled with Iraqi literature post-2003. I’d not only introduce new stories, but also comment on writers​ ​who became visible and influential in the post-invasion era. ​
Are there new works by the authors included in this collection that you’d highlight or draw attention to? It’s been ten years since the original hardback of   Contemporary Iraqi Fiction: An Anthology   was published, ed. A blessing with no qualification.​
Why did you choose to open the anthology with Khudayyir? Hadiya Hussein, Inam Kachachi, and Aliya Mamdouh are other writers whose work is relevant and worth sharing with wider readerships. The Tattoo is available in Iraq now, but I’m not sure if there’s an Iraqi edition. Others? What made you want to include novel excerpts in addition to stories? ​SM:   Khudayyir’s choice was a personal issue. Michael Beard and I   flirted with the idea of translating Khudayyir’s stories, and it might be a good time to revisit that idea.​
Are there things that you think particularly set the Iraqi short story apart from the Egyptian short story, the Lebanese short story, the Palestinian? I wanted to translate Iraqi writers because they were less visible, but now thanks to several translators — especially William Hutchins — Iraqi writers are getting more attention. We like texts and we translate them, but we also think of introducing what’s different, more relevant, more imaginative, and so on. I also remember being particularly struck by Samir Naqqash’s “Tantal,” a story about the magic of storytelling, of creation, of the things that fade away and those that mark us forever. Do you look for short stories in different places now than you did 10, 15 years ago? Luay Abbas? Stylistically, aesthetically? Why did you choose that one from among all the stories in Ana w ha’ula’ w al-fisam? I have actually translated some stories by Hadiya Hussein that I’d like to publish. He co-edited A Century of Irish Drama: Widening the Stage and Seventeenth-Century English Poetry: An Introductory Course. Why aren’t they? ​SM: “Tantal” is one I immediately loved​ after reading it in Arabic. Advertisements

Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading…‹ Amjad Nasser’s ‘Here is the Rose’: ‘We Can No Longer Tell Tragedy from FarceCategories: Iraq SM:   There must be a number of critics who can better address this question. ​I have always been text-oriented, so it really makes little difference where a writer comes from. I seem to find fewer Iraqi stories, novels, and poems in the US classroom than I do Egyptian, Lebanese, and Palestinian. Have you taught with this collection? I remember how these stories — and Basrayatha — marked me, with their outrageous inventiveness and lyrical murmurings, and am continually surprised that there is no collection of his stories in English​​. Something by Hassan Blasim? That there’s no collection of short stories by Khudayyir is a shame.