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New post on Arabic Literature (in English)

 

 

Iraqi Novelist Mahmoud Saeed: Finding the Needle in the Haystack

by mlynxqualey

Mahmoud Saeed's short story "Lizards' Colony," trans. William Hutchins, was recently nominated for the Pushcart by World Literature Today. Saeed answered a few questions about the story, and about his career as an Iraqi author:

ArabLit: Why write? Why write fiction?

Mahmoud Saeed: Why write novels? That is an important question, and equally important is: Why write fiction? I would like to answer these questions from my own experiences. When I was a teenager, I decided I wanted to write a fictional novel. I thought for a long time on the subject and came to the conclusion that I would write an esoteric crime novel. However, when I began to write, I found that I could not express my ideas. After six years, many failed attempts and reading hundreds of books, I suddenly succeeded! I finished my story, entered it into an Iraqi newspaper contest, and it took first place! I was influenced by the Russian novelists I had read, who were interested in depicting human misery. Their writings had a profound impact on me, which was reflected in a change to my writing style.

I do not know when I first began to write, but I couldn’t stop, and as life's problems continued,

writing novels became an outlet for my frustration. It helped me to overcome the pitfalls and obstacles of life, and prevented me from become a flunky -- and that is what Iraqi governments wanted the people be, till now, the Iraqis are not free to live a normal life. Either they live like subservient monkeys, obeying the ruling regime, giving up their minds, chanting in slogans or, if they refuse to obey, then they are crippled under the strength of their rulers, suffering pain, punishment, and persecution.

Literature in Iraq is far from being considered humanitarian in its discourse. It merely acts as a mouthpiece for the regime. Since 1959, only a handful of novels have been written with human content. As for me, writing novels was my savior, preserving my psyche from the downfall so many others faced before me.

AL: Can you talk about "Lizards' Colony"? What was the spark for this story? What is the relationship between "reality" in your writing and the world(s) of the imagination? To what extent do you research your stories?

MS: I wrote "Lizards' Colony" from my own experiences; in 1963 I was jailed for one year and one day. I witnessed many forms of torture. I began writing my third novel, Rhythm and Obsession, in 1968, about a young man who was tortured and then executed. The novel was prohibited from being published in Iraq.

In 1980, after I was released from prison, I wrote the first novel in Iraq, or even the Arab world, that detailed the crimes that occurred in the prisons. I described the torture, beatings and starvation. I Am The One Who Saw, was the Arabic title, but in English it was changed to, Saddam City. I believed the novel would be failure after two chapters were omitted because of strict censorship in Syria.

 

Fortunately, it proved to be a success, despite being incomplete. And, in 2009, Library Thing—a book-sharing website--rated it as one of the top 70 novels in the world and dozens of critics have written articles about this novel.

Next, I wrote a novel detailing the torture at Abu Ghraib, which hasn’t been published yet. I felt compelled to share what I saw in prison. As a witness to these atrocities, I wanted to portray them factually. It is unfortunate that my writing is the result of such circumstances—being imprisoned against my will. I was arrested more than six times, and I wrote about two experiences.

I mentioned torture in Syria in third novel because I visited there twice in 2009 and 2010. I intended to write about displaced Iraqis, but when I was there, the Syrian authorities prevented me from visiting the refugee camps; fortunately I heard countless stories of torture in Syrian prisons. This was the inspiration for my novel (The Truck). Six month after I wrote the novel, the website Wikileaks exposed what had happened in Syria, detailing events similar to what I had written.

As for "Lizards' Colony," I pulled from what I had seen in 1963 and 1980, in prison, and some of articles were published about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. So, you see, writing about torture was compulsory. It’s possible that I‘m the first author in the Arab world to write about the torture in any significant quantity and quality.

AL: Do you have any particular concerns when you write about torture? J.M. Coetzee has said that writing about torture presents the writer with difficult choices; that one is caught between the harm of ignoring it and the harm of reproducing it, thus further terrorizing people. What are your thoughts about how / why / when a fiction writer should treat torture?

 

   

2014-05-21 - عدد القراءات #13669 - تعليق #0 - مواضيع عامة مترجمة

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