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The Postcolonial Iraqi Novel : Themes and Sources of Inspiration

Shayma Hamedawi
p. 211-228


Cet article examine les thèmes et sources d’inspiration du roman irakien, en limitant cette recherche à deux moments dans le passé récent : les années qui ont immédiatement suivi l’invasion américaine de l’Irak en 2003 et celles inspirées par les événements de 2014, avec un survol des romans irakiens antérieurs à ces deux périodes charnières. À partir d’un choix représentatif de textes de fiction, le lecteur sera initié à la narration qui établit l’identité postcoloniale. Toutes ces œuvres sont écrites en arabe et ce travail met en lumière le ton mélancolique et réaliste qui y prévaut. Les effets dévastateurs de la guerre de 2003 et l’invasion de l’État islamique, qui en a été la conséquence sont examinés d’une multiplicité de points de vue. Ces romans, qui analysent l’évolution de la société irakienne, sont tous écrits par des romanciers ancrés dans la culture locale irakienne et s’inscrivent dans une typologie du roman irakien moderne.

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1If 2003 was a tragic, transitional year in Iraq’s history, ushering in the age of international coalition colonialism, the emergence of ISIS, with the invasion of Mosul City in the north of the country in 2014, added another disastrous and complicated dimension to the situation. These two tragic events were the triggers of the destruction and turmoil that disrupted Iraq radically and became a source of inspiration for artists in general, but more especially for the Iraqi novelists. Just like the country, the novel, in its role of expressive outlet for the new reality following the 2003 invasion, has undergone a dramatic change, in its focus, techniques and narrative style. The current state of violence, corruption and death is what defines the general preoccupation of the Iraqi postcolonial novelist.

The Emergence of New Voices

2With it special melancholic stamp, the Iraqi postcolonial novel has established its own distinctive voice, varying from realism to fantasy to speculation, to myth, from harsh objectivity to subjective sympathy. This genre has made its mark in the Arabic and international world, competing to win a number of prestigious awards at home and abroad. Among these are the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) awarded to Ahmed Alsaadaw for his Frankenstein in Baghdad (2014), which narrates the story of a strange creature that grows from the remains of dead bodies and whose mission is to take revenge on those responsible for their death. There are also other nominees, such as The American Grandaughter (2008), by the author Inaam Kachach, which tackles the tragic effects of cultural hybridisation through the experience of a young Iraqi woman, brought up in America, returning to Iraq as an American soldier, where she must struggle to reconcile her conflicting identities and loyalties. Of note also is Zuhair Al-Hiti’s Ayam Alturab (2016), which discusses the chaos and the revenge-policy that has submerged the country since the entry of the coalition forces. Two other works chosen deal with the subject of the life of the intelligentsia and artists in these chaotic times. The first, Sanan Antun’s Al-Faharas (2016), discusses the literary talent of two young men who meet in the city’s historic literary district, Al-Mutanabbi Street, home of booksellers, printers, and cafes, such as the famous Shabandar café, where Iraqi writers and intellectuals have been gathering for centuries. One of the young men is seeking to write a book with the help of an index, using a new methodology which records the most insignificant details regarding the atrocities and iniquities of the invasion; and another becomes influenced by this method of indexing to such an extent that he also takes to documenting everything that comes his way. Mohammed Saad Raheem’s Maqtal Bayie Alkutub (2016), which is also concerned by the problems of creative writing, features a bookseller who is murdered under mysterious circumstances. His notebooks show that he had been documenting everything since the entry of the coalition forces, as well as recording his own secret political criticism of the various regimes. It may well be this which has led to his murder.

3The works listed above provide a brief preview of a long list of works which all describe and document the events and consequences of the recent and particularly pernicious variant of colonialism that has struck Iraq.

Iraq’s Literary Heritage

4Before tackling the theme of the Iraqi postcolonial novel, it is important to keep in mind how different it is from the Iraqi traditional novel. The Iraqi postcolonial novel establishes its own criteria, exploring territory which ventures far beyond the limits the traditional novel had set itself. Retracing the development of the Iraqi novel through history, the readers will discover that Iraqi literature did not give as much importance to the novel as a genre as it did to poetry. Iraqi society was particularly conservative and observant of its traditions and tribal customs. For this essentially patriarchal society, the novel as a genre was a Western and female phenomenon. Telling stories was a women’s occupation; men had more important things to do for society. In addition to that, people were busy with internal conflict and with the government of up-down states, not to speak of the conspiracies, which were rife in the troubled period following the end of the First World War when the country was placed under the authority of the British. In 1932, independence was marked by brief monarchy, overthrown in 1958 by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, which maintained power, despite the first Gulf War and the Iran-Iraq war until the arrival of the Coalition in 2003. During this troubled period, people were struggling to survive death, poverty and oppression.

5A work like Al-riwyah al-iqaziyyah (The Awakening Novel, 1919) by Sulaymān Faydī, which is considered to be the first Iraqi narrative to have the features of a novel, restricted its aims to the awakening of social consciousness, and moral reform, with no thought of entertainment or romance (Kashou, 52). Later on, intellectuals such as Ahmed Mahmoud Alsaed continued this campaign, tackling social, political, moral and educational issues. In his Khaled Jalal (1928), which is considered to be the first Iraqi novel in its narrative content and design, Alsaed argues that the best way of resisting British colonialism is through the power of education, the spread of knowledge, and the abandonment of useless customs. He also campaigned for both political reforms and the rights of women. Worthy of note also are Fu’ad Al-Takarli, who began experimenting with the short story in 1944, publishing his first story in Beirut 1951, to become a decisive figure, along with Abd Al- Malik Nuri in the development of this literary genre.

6But Iraq had to wait until 1966, when Gha’ab Tumaa Farman published his Palm and Neighbour, which is considered to be the first work with all the features of fiction (Ibrahim, 3). This novel basically deals with everyday life during the Second World War in the urban neighbourhoods of Baghdad. It is a realistic novel, focusing on poverty deprivation and the miseries of war. After this novel, Farman published Five Sounds (1967) and Labour (1974).

7All these novels concentrate on the everyday existence of simple folk, written in the Iraqi local dialect. Another important work is Fahdil Alazaawi’s, The Fifth Castle, which introduces communist ideology and describes life in jail, stereotyping a pessimistic view of life.

The Artist during the Al-Ba’ath Regime

8The dictatorship of the Al-Ba’ath Regime and Saddam Hussein’s presidency, inaugurated in 1979, did nothing to stimulate the writing of works of fiction that could compete with what was happening elsewhere in the Middle East at that time – the only fiction which produced by Iraqis was written in exile, as intellectuals were regarded with suspicion during Saddam’s Hussein’s dictatorship. Artists were the favourite targets of the secret police and frequently broke down under interrogation. Those who refused to abandon their vocations were extremely restricted and tended more towards symbolism than to realism. They avoided the subjects of injustice and the government’s oppressive policies, preferring to pay homage to wars and to glorify death, while faking loyalty to the regime. Examples of this mode of expression are provided by Mohamed Khediar’s treatment of myth, and ancient history in Qadisiyah Saddam (1983) and Basriaytha (1996), as well as in Mahmoud Jindar’s The Edges (1989). The devastation of the eight years of war with Iran, followed in the first years of the 1990s by the international reaction to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait did nothing to improve the situation. The impact of the United Nation’s sanctions against Iraq frustrated, not only the ordinary Iraqi citizen, but also the intellectuals, who were so absorbed by the struggle to stay alive that the expressive outlet of creative writing was no longer a priority.

The Rise of the Iraqi Novel

9April 9th 2003 was a crucial date for Iraqis in general and for novelists in particular, as it was not until that date, that the Iraqi writers, who had not already fled Iraq, were liberated from their mental exile and started to produce the rich texts that were to establish the general features of the Iraqi postcolonial novel. Writers were brought back to life by the hope which followed the collapse of the Al-Ba’ath Party’s regime. The numeerous publishing houses that opened provided writers with more space to write and publish than they ever had before, or even needed. The country witnessed the arrival on the market of millions of books, as well as seeing the setting up of internet services which allowed the writers to express their thoughts publicly and easily. Even so, in the stormy aftermath of 2003, Iraqi writers were not only shocked at the violence with which Saddam Hussein’s regime had been toppled, but apprehensive and doubtful about the invasion of the international coalition and its methods.

10Generally speaking, the novels written after 2003 fall into two categories: those revealing the violations of the Saddam Hussein regime and those dealing with the radical transformation brought about by the 2003 invasion. This second group typifies a new trend, basically concerned with revealing the impact of the war and the new colonialism on the country. Despite all the challenges and difficulties writers underwent, they succeeded in establishing a new identity for Iraqi fiction. These writers showed remarkable skill in managing the relationship between their narrative and the social and political reality, producing fiction that is the expression of the new national identity of Iraq. These works reflect Iraq’s ability to create its own original style as the means to respond to the destruction of war and challenge its raison d’être. Jameel Alshebeby believes that the Iraqi novel is a very flexible genre, capable of manipulating all narrative shapes and styles to produce different thoughts and visions far removed from pragmatic reality (Alshebeby, 2014). He also believes that the questions and conversations initiated by the Iraqi authors are an ideal, ideological and psychological response to the reality of Iraq after 1960s.

11As a matter of fact, the emergence of the specific form of the Iraqi postcolonial novel cannot be explained without referring to the political scene. Indeed they are interrelated. The 2003 political transformation established the cultural background for the Iraqi writers, who were all very anxious to reflect the radical changes which were sweeping through their country. From 2003 on, Iraqi literature was enriched by a wave of novels, all bent on recording as accurately as possible the events and violations of the invasion. The novel as a genre has its own special magic and influence in narrating and clarifying the political and social crisis that overturned the country. It is no wonder that the common theme dominating the Iraqi novel after 2003 is the devastating political, economic, and social destruction of the country. From this starting point, the following themes can be considered the most debated in the postcolonial novel : war, death, death threats, rape, racism, murder, ethnic murder, crimes, kidnapping, political corruption and injustice, economic, social and moral deterioration, the collapse of ideologies, ethnic discrimination, identity crisis, the destruction of monuments, oil theft and migration. All these themes addressing the Iraqi reality and contributing to the construction of the identity of the Iraqi novel after 2003 will be reviewed in the following chronological samples.

Obliteration of Individual Identity : Márquez’s Curse

12Published in 2007, Dhiaa Aljbaili’s Márquez’s Curse is the perfect candidate for the most representative work of fiction documenting the events of 2003 war. In addition to revealing the literary climate under the Saddam Hussein regime, the dominant theme of this novel is the intended material destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure, affecting both the actual government offices, buildings and the more abstract nature of the financial and cultural services. This novel documents the first moments of the international coalition’s entry into Iraq, specifically into the Basra province, south of Iraq. It describes the fear and chaos that spread throughout the city, which he regards as emblematic of the entry of the international coalition forces into the country.

13Just after the announcement of the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s government, with the support of British forces, thieves and scavengers exploited the absence of power and ransacked the government offices. Aljbaili chooses the mailbox office as a sample and a main setting to document such destruction. This office, which is located in Basra, is a symbol of Iraq’s situation in general. Subjected to a savage attack coming from every direction, it is left it in a miserable, chaotic state. Such barbaric attacks would undermine the country for years to come. It is an ugly picture of devastation and pillage, the systematic destruction of every single detail of people’s personal records, obliterating all their personal papers, including even wedding invitation. After the raid, the office takes on a ghostly appearance.

14Adopting an intelligent narrative technique, Aljbaili succeeds in presenting the dual reality of Iraqi society: before and after 2003. The present is the chaotic situation in the mailbox-office and the past is included in a draft of a novel, discovered lying neglected in the office without the stamp necessary for its postage. In this way, Aljbaili uses the description of the present to address the past. Inside the mailbox office and amid the chaos, the narrator finds the draft of this novel, describing in a mysterious language, the event before 2003. The writer, sender and, recipient are unknown and its language is written in a mysterious code, which is difficult to decipher. The purpose of this subterfuge is to make sure this draft will pass out of Iraq successfully without drawing the attention of Saddam’s secret police. This secret code has a double function; it is not only a prism through which the situation is seen, but an illustration of the severe repression that reigned at that time.

15After several readings of this draft, the narrator discovers that it is the work of five young men, one of whom turns out to be the writer himself. Each chapter is the work of one of them. These chapters were written independently and not in agreement with each other. For Aljbaili, this discordance is emblematic of what he believes to be the dilemma of the Iraqi people in general and their spokesmen, the writers in particular. These young men are even in disagreement when it comes to choosing a title for their collective work. People are in a constant state of disagreement and conflict. Amid this, the foreign powers divide and rule, exploiting their differences and weaknesses to take control and make their decisions for the country in their own interests.

16The impossibility of connecting the chapters and the lost meaning of the conclusion reflects the paralysis of these young men when it comes to representing their culture. Aljbaili suggests that the main reason underlying the weakness of the literary talent of these writers was the oppression of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the submission of intelligentsia, and the common belief that the West is the only source qualified to take on this mission. The West is represented in this novel by the character of the Colombian novelist García Márquez, who draws their portraits, rewrites their history and their literature, and theorises their lives. These writers are paralysed by their inferiority complex with respect to the West. They believe that Márquez, who is observing their situation is doing so in order to usurp their heritage, their history, and their myths. It is a shameful surrender to Imperialism, a willingness to hand over Iraq’s cultural identity to outsiders.

Destruction of the Collective Cultural identity : Jannat Al-’atād

17This focus on the cultural and intellectual situation of Iraq is considered to be one of the most important sources of inspiration for the Iraqi novelist after 2003. Aljbaili and other writers, such as Ibrahim Alsebti seek to reveal the subterranean attempts and plans to destroy the cognitive, intellectual, cultural, literary, and educational capacity of the country. Through their novels, they explore the strategic process of targeting and changing the country from different perspectives, including its culture and history. These writers make it clear that these attempts are not only part of the foreign agenda but the perpetrators are also the Iraqi themselves. This is what Alsebti suggests in Jannat Al-’atād (2010).

18In a similar way to Aljbaili, Ibrahim Alsebti also seeks, but from a different perspective, to document objectively the intentional destruction of Iraq as a country. He highlights the colonial influence on Iraqi culture, and the radical transformations it has brought about in the ideological and moral values of Iraqi society. In addition to exploring the material damage to Iraqi infrastructures, the novel also documents the intentionally barbaric attack which targeted the famous historic bookselling street, Almutanabbi. This street was subjected to multiple explosions with the sole view to terrifying and dispersing the intellectuals, thinkers, students and researchers. Those people, who used to visit this place, which they considered as their library, were left completely frightened and frustrated. Alsebti shows that it is an attack on the Iraqi elite and culture in general, carried out in order to weaken the level of education and drive Iraq back to illiteracy.

19Another important issue that is tackled in this novel is the barbaric attempt to eliminate the history and heritage of Mesopotamia in Iraq. The ransacking of the Iraqi ruins and the sale of the national treasures to other countries is described, showing how this endangers the ancient heritage of Iraq. One of the characters betrays his country and his national identity by becoming a trader of monuments. Selling of his country’s treasures improves his social status. He is transformed from poor simple man into a selfish wealthy person. This man does not have any sense of regret, instead he boasts of his greed. He confesses that he will never quit however wealthy he becomes. His attitude is an illustration of the gradual process of the abandonment of the simple noble morals and values that Iraqis have grown up with in exchange for material gain. The writer wishes to record for posterity, the moral, ideological, and psychological crisis the Iraqi nation underwent after 2003. In addition to poverty, Alsebti pinpoints the other factors that have participated in the moral breakdown. He enumerates the acts of violence that were perpetrated as the direct consequence of the American preemptive strike, the repeated violations of human rights, the sectarian violence, the collective murders, the bomb attacks, pillage, theft, and trade in contraband. These violations represent only a small percentage of the unimaginable chaos that spread throughout the country. Alsebti is not the only writer preoccupied by this devastation, other writers, like for example, Abdul Alzahra Ali, share his concern. Ali’s Poisoned Wind (Riah Alsamum, 2010) makes an exhaustive survey of the violations carried out since the entry of the International Coalition in 2003.

The Contamination of the Local Economy : Poisoned Wind

20Poisoned Wind is an impressive work of fiction which sheds light on the epidemic of destruction and disorder that swept over Iraq, paying especial attention to the economic, cultural and moral crisis that devastated Iraqi society after 2003. The local market place is the all-important location from which Ali starts his criticism against the illegal trading that destroyed the delicately balanced local economy, having a profound effect on the ordinary citizen’s morality. As if filming with an over-the-shoulder camera, the writer roams local markets, where unscrupulous businessmen exploit the absence of any legal authority and sully the public meeting places with their illegal, wildcat trade and their sinister hustlers. This market is overflowing with contraband, stolen goods, furniture, weapons, pharmaceutical goods, spare car parts, and electronic gadgets, all over priced and so inaccessible to the normal Iraqi.

21The local markets have witnessed, not only the massive influx of illegal goods and black market trading, but have also been flooded with products such as whisky, beer, and drugs from different brands that are detrimental both from the cultural and religious points of view. These products seduce large numbers of the gullible youngsters who gather like flies around the hustlers to gape and bargain. The writer seeks to highlight two issues when it comes to the health of the Iraqi economy. Firstly, such commercial anarchy and black marketeering destroys the economy of the country; secondly, it leads to the misery of cultural regression. Now the younger generation, fascinated by shoddy foreign consumer goods, have become the slaves of new fashions and objects of culture that are alien to their society. The way the market imposes these new tastes on the young people has had a detrimental effect on their psychology and behaviour. The way these goods are bombarded on the ordinary Iraqi consumer eventually leads to confusion and instability. Such commercial free trading has a disruptive effect on the ordinary Iraqi, who greedily consume goods they neither need nor desire to compensate for the long years of deprivation.

22Still on the subject of the economic and moral crisis, Poisoned Wind explores another aspect, which had led to a severe social and financial distress : the ruthless looting of government institutions, the gold market, and the financial services office. This plunder has played a vital part in the emergence of a class of newly rich carpet baggers who have risen up from the lower orders of society. One of the characters, whose name is Abu Salman, has suddenly managed to buy a whole village and becomes the proud owner of valuable properties. As his standard of living and social status improve, he starts forbidding people to call him by his name, insisting that it should be preceded by “Sheik” (tribal leader). After prolonged attempts, Abu Salman succeeds in procuring forged identity papers from the Sheik Tribal Council, proving that he is indeed a “Sheik”.

The Rise of Sectarianism : Baghdad Wonders

23Ward Bader Salam novel’s (Eajayib Baghdad, 2012) successfully documents the transformations that swept over in the capital as a result of the social and economic crisis and civil war. This novel looks deep into the disturbing circumstances of the civil war that destroyed Iraq in 2006, documenting the political history of the country and the internal conspiracies and external foreign agenda which combined to destroy Iraq as a nation and a state. It also introduces the factors which exhausted the country and involved its people in sectarianism. The main theme of this novel, which is a search for identity, is analysed in minute detail, revealing the suffering and victimisation of the Iraqi community during the tragic events of 2006. In this work, the reader is introduced to a world of misery, death, and chaos. This novel has all the appearance of an encyclopaedia in its exhaustive coverage of consequences of the invasion. It is many stories in one, each recording the conspiracy to overthrow a country rather than just the dictatorship of Saddam’s regime.

24Through the eyes of an Iraqi journalist who left his stable modern life in the United Arab Emerits and came back his country to cover the bloody conflict unfolding in 2006, Salam paints a comprehensive picture of the civil war, one of the direct results of the American invasion. Here, the writer also sheds light on the role of the media in covering the events. For Iraqi postcolonial literature, the idea of talking about the mission of a journalist seems to be both original and functional. This journalist comes back to investigate the murder of the Iraq female journalist Attwar Bahjett who was murdered while covering the first outbreak of sectarianism, which was heralded by the explosion of the Shia shrine in Samarra, north of Iraq.

25In his account of the murder of Attwar Bahjett, the writer succeeds in pinpointing a whole nexus of issues. Firstly, he presents the subject of sectarianism which emerges out of nowhere in 2006, manifested by the massive arbitrary targeting of innocent people from all persuasions, without any discrimination The hero narrates how the Tigris River had become a mortuary, full of the bodies of the slaughtered. Secondly, he criticises the paradoxical presence of the International Coalition troops who were supposed to save people from Saddam’s tyranny and spread peace. He notes that their presence in Samarra did nothing to stop the explosion, nor prevent the great turmoil and the massacre of innocent people. For Salam, such events are the direct result of the invader’s presence, along with the collusion of politicians who collaborate with the invaders in their mission to take control of the country. These politicians not only allowed such events to take place, but did not react to the scandal of the Abu Ghraib Prison, where the naked bodies of the prisoners became the martyrs and symbols of their betrayal.

26While investigating the murder of Attwar Bahjett, the hero is confronted with the horror devastating the country : scenes of disorder, crimes, death, along with the countless slaughtered bodies from different religious persuasions floating in the rivers. The endless journeys he makes to witness the misery provokes in him a deep sense of inner conflict and frustration. His hopes of reclaiming his identity by exploring his homeland are dashed. He becomes overwhelmed with the feeling that his homeland has become a place of death and desolation. His efforts to recover his identity can be compared to the efforts of those people who attempt to retrieve their relatives identity documents among the countless dead bodies floating in the river.

The Second Act in the Tragedy : The Isis Invasion of 2014

27Baghdad Wonders and the other novels are representative samples of the modern literature which grew out of the 2003 invasion. This innovative genre took a new turn in 2014. From the ugly pictures of colonialism and war, the focus of this new Iraqi literature shifted to document another critical postcolonial event, which was ISIS invasion of Mosul city in the north of Iraq, analysing its reasons and consequences. Eleven years since the outbreak of the 2003 war started in 2003, Iraq, still reeling from the “shock and awe” was on its knees, with the deflagration ignited by the Coalition still smouldering. This unscrupulous alien force, expert at exploiting any sign of weakness, had infiltrated the internal affairs of the country, determined to achieve their aim of taking over the country. Today, Iraq is suffering, not only from the war with ISIS, but from the multiple scourges that rot the country, such as social and political corruption and divisions, political power struggles, economic breakdown, political and racial conflict, and international and internal conspiracies. All these factors are the main topics that the Iraqi novel addresses after 2014.

28For the Iraqi novelist, such circumstances participate in distorting the traditional perception of the Iraqi identity. Revenge, chaos, systematic murder, forcible displacement, and racial discrimination change people’s moral outlook and infects them with hostile feelings towards each other. Sectarianism creates huge gaps between the different persuasions of Iraqi society, where before there was tolerance and unity. Ideologically, Iraq adopts new concepts and habits that establish a hybrid postcolonial identity. On the individual level, the Iraqi citizen feels lost, broken and forlorn. In the years that followed 2003, the ordinary Iraqi had gradually sunk into an abyss of despair, abandoning, as time went by all, hope of retrieving their country’s solidarity and security. Disappointment and a constant state of acute anxiety have had a paralysing effect, making them unable to face reality and envisage flight as the only solution. Therefore, many Iraqis prefer to abandon all attempts of resistance, becoming obsessed with the notion that the only solution is to flee the country.

29This situation influences the attitudes of the novelists who were hitherto divided between those who opposed and those who supported the change brought about by the 2003 war. More than that, some of them have come to regret the good times when the Iraqis were united, even though they were living under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. Some novelists keep lamenting the situation, others prefer documenting the horrible events and indicting terrorism as the reason behind the country deterioration. However, both opponents and supporters are masterful in narrating the tragic melancholic tone, which has become the hallmark of the Iraqi postcolonial novel.

30Basically, the Iraqi novel after 2014 tackled the same general topics that it had broached before the arrival of ISIS on the scene. However, after the ISIS invasion of Mosul, the insecurity and widespread destruction were approached from a new angle to integrate the horror of this new dimension. The main focus is on the unspeakable savagery of the ISIS barbarism and their fundamentalist agenda, the Yazidi oppression, the Spyker massacre, the destruction of the Assyrian heritage, radicalism, racial discrimination, the refugee crisis, kidnappings, injustice, the general insecurity and the vacuum created by the massive immigration of intelligentsia.

The Psychological Effect of ISIS : Valium 10

31One of the most important novels that narrates the ISIS invasion of Mosul city is Khuḍayr Falīḥ Alzady’s Valium 10 (Falyawm Eshra) (2016), which offers a credible analysis of its significance and the consequences it had on society. Documenting the real events which happened in 2014, this writer is more interested in the psychological influence of this invasion on the people than on the actual event itself. All the action is centred around the impact of the ISIS invasion to Mosul. It starts with the shock felt by the Iraqis when the ISIS leader, Abu Baker AL Baghdadi made his appeareance in the media, declaring, once his followers had succeeded in controlling the city and causing a state of panic throughout the whole country, the caliphate of ISIS in Mosul city. The novel explores the personal and social crisis that spread throughout the country after this day, which he regards as one of the most tragic dates in the history of Iraq.

32The intention of Valium10 is to explore the effect that the ISIS leader’s declaration had on the minds of the ordinary Iraqi. This aspect is skilfully handled by Alzady, who achieves his main purpose, which is to give an accurate account of the ISIS invasion and expose the failure of the weak corrupt Iraqi government. Valium 10 (the medical name is diazepam), is a drug prescribes for hallucination. After the ISIS invasion, which had a huge impact on the nation’s mental health, people started to take refuge in anti-depressants. Unable to register the full horror of the situation, the more vulnerable began to display symptoms of insanity. The writer shows that, in this chaotic and insane world without hope, people took refuge in Valium and other drugs to disconnect and alleviate the miseries of the country.

33The narrator, Salam Alwafi, who is an Iraqi journalist living in Canada, is one of these addicts. He came back to his homeland to make a documentary film, covering the story of his brother, Ghassan Alwafi who should be considered to be the main hero of this novel. Ghassan worked for the Iraqi army and was the last soldier to withdraw from Mosul before the city fell under the control of ISIS. Losing the city has greatly affected his mental balance. He is shocked to the point of speechlessness.

34The rhetorical devise of symbolism is vital to the structure of this novel. Valium 10 is the strongest doze of the drug that can be administered to lull the pain of awareness and assuage the misery of the victims. Number 10 is also a reference to the exact date of the invasion of the city – April 10th, 2014. This date has become a milestone in the history of the country. The symbolism of the number 10 is reinforced by the symbolism of the names given to the characters. For example, the name chosen for the politician: Mr. ‘‘Na`am’’ means “soft”. This character stands for the corrupt politician who is famous for his smooth insidious political shenanigans. He exploits the chaos and devastation in the aftermath of the invasion of Mosul to steal the treasures of the country without any fear of reprisal, as the government is too busy trying to recover the lost JM CD. This CD contains all the scandals regarding the shady financial dealings of the government, including Na`am’s own embezzlement.

35The ISIS invasion of Mosul is an ideal theme for the author to start his diatribe against the corruption of politicians. With the character of Mr. ‘‘Na`am’’, the writer shows that the corrupt politicians are as guilty as either ISIS or the International Coalition when it comes to ruining their country. It is their weakness, their self-interest, their allegiance to foreign powers that has undermined the government and this is what has allowed ISIS to invade Mosul.

36The talkative Mr. Na`am sets off the taciturn role of other character, whose name is ‘‘Aseel’, which means authentic. Aseel is depicted in the novel as standing immobile, in a state of shock. He is lost in the conflict between the external and internal powers and between the doctrines of two conflicting religions. The conflict and the pressures weaken his will and his morality. He ends up helping Mr. Na`am and others in their theft of the government money and later on migrates to Canada. Divided and demobilised and dispersed, these characters have done nothing to solve the crisis of Mosul. The characters of the novel are divided into three groups : one is submissive and occupied with the hallucinatory drug. The second is busy searching for the lost CD, and the third who oppose the corruption, commit collective suicide with the blessing of Mr. Na`am. Amid all this, Mosul city is left at the mercy of the criminal gang of ISIS.

Reconcialition and Hope : Nineveh Diaspora

37From the miserieres of the social and psychological crisis and political corruption to moral preaching and nostalgia for the past, Ghada Siddiq Rasool produces a new narrative and conception of the Iraqi postcolonial novel. Her Nineveh Diaspora (Shutat Nynaw, 2016) is a novel that evokes the reader’s emotions and sympathy and feeling of nostalgia for the good old days of the past. It is didactic in its aim, pleading, with the support of historical evidence, for civil peace and coexistence. Starting with the monarchy of King Faisel II and concluding with ISIS invasion in 2014, Rasool, with great mastery, presents a complete concise survey of Iraqi civilisation, sociology, culture, geography, and tradition of ethnic coexistence. She also reveals the devastating losses undergone by Iraq during a succession of calamitous wars, not only with Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1991, and now with ISIS. Rather than criticising, Rasool dwells on the misereres and disadvantages of the war, recommending peace and reconciliation by making the reader realise the difference and the truth.

38Rasool succeeds in making a comparison between the life in the past and life in the present. With such a comparison, the reader will judge the consequence of wars and learn to appreciate the time of peace. The comparison resulting from this vast panorama reveals the massive transformation in Iraqi sociology, ideology and morality. In her simple, elegant language and style, Rasool expresses great nostalgia for Iraq’s old times, which she considers as a paradise on earth for its people. This blatant nostalgia serves the important purpose of reminding Iraqis of their national heritage and the time when Iraqis were united and the different religious persuasions coexisted in peace and harmony. Her rich narrative style nourishes the reader with this meaning. Her narrative makes the reader take delight in the picture she paints of the idyllic past. The atmosphere she creates is imbued with a sense peace, love and coexistence.

39Some people like the family of the Muslim Ahmed, who still have such values, live happily and united with their other Christian neighbours, proving that ISIS and the corrupt world surrounding them can never affect their attitude. Their simple way of life, the food they eat, their philosophical attitudes, and their innate kindness spread sweetness and light In comparison to this beautiful picture, there is the ugly image of life under the control of ISIS, which Rasool defines as the period of the Mosul diaspora and crisis. Thousands of civilians from different religious persuasions are forced to leave their homes, for fear of the tyranny of ISIS. Iraqis seem to have returned to the beginning of the dark ages, where discrimination, hatred, misery and persecution crushed the spirit of the people.

40Lamenting the new Iraq, the novel ends with a mixture of sadness and hope. Rasool concludes that the Iraqi people still coexist and are united despite the horrible influence of ISIS and the foreign conspiracies which work to destroy their unity. The Muslim Ahmed and the Christian Khuder remain friends and nothing affects their friendship till the end. Their graves are close to each other, even if they were slaughtered and burnt to death in a refugee camp in Turkey, Rasool’s message is clear : the present evil circumstances will not be able to destroy the ultimate goodness of the people. It is an invitation to reconciliation and resistance to the pressure of evil, insisting on the virtues of tolerant coexistence and good as main reasons for living.


41To sum up, all the novels selected represent a kaleidoscope of views mainly reflecting the multiple reality of a country that has suffered from every kind of oppression imaginable from the 2003 war to the present. Like a tape recording, these novels are the best means to convey the situation and the story of the Iraqi nation to foreign readers. They also stand as the literary record of the modern political history of Iraq, which documents the factors and reasons behind the devastation of the country. Independently of the different angles of vision, there is a general consensus that these are the invasion of Iraq by the International Coalition headed by Britain and America in 2003, the ISIS invasion, and the corruption of the native Iraqi government. Varying in their themes, visions, and style, these novels construct the particular identity of the Iraqi postcolonial novel establishing its place and significance in the Arabic and international world.

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Ali Abdul Zahra, Poisoned Wind (Riah Alsamum), Dar Alyanabie, Syria, 2010.

Aljbaili Dhiaa, Márquez’s Curse, Publications of the Union of Writers in Basra, Iraq, 2007.

Alsebti Ibrahim, Jannat Al-’atād, Alsamum Dar Alyanabie, Syria, 2010.

Alshebeby Jameel, Iraqi Novel after 2003, 28 Oct 2014

Alzady Khuḍayr Falīḥ, Valuim10 (Falyawm Eshrah), Manshūrāt Ḍifāf, Lebanon, 2016.

Rasool Ghada Siddiq, Nineveh Diaspora (Shutat Nynaw), Dar Al Farabi, Lebanon, 2016.

Salam Ward Bader, Baghdad Wonders. Eajayib Baghdad, Thaqafa for Publishing and Distribution, UAE, 2012.

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Shayma Hamedawi, « The Postcolonial Iraqi Novel : Themes and Sources of Inspiration », Babel, 36 | -1, 211-228.

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Shayma Hamedawi, « The Postcolonial Iraqi Novel : Themes and Sources of Inspiration », Babel [En ligne], 36 | 2017, mis en ligne le 07 février 2018, consulté le 31 mars 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Shayma Hamedawi

Lebanese University, Beirut

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Licence Creative Commons
Babel. Littératures plurielles est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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