18 June 07 | Chad W. Post

One of the most consistently interesting weekly roundups is Susan Salter Reynolds’s “Discoveries” column at the L.A. Times. She’s one of the few reviewers who does an excellent job covering translations from independent presses, usually covering titles that no one else is writing about.

This week’s column is no exception, featuring three books about life in Iraq, both pre- and post-Hussein.

Two of the books she writes about—Outcast by Shimon Ballas and I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody by Sinan Antoon—are from City Lights, and the third—The Sirens of Baghdad by Yasmina Khadra—is from Nan Talese.

All three sound interesting, and taken together, cover a range of emotional responses and political situations.

In Outcast a Jewish scholar who has converted to Islam is appalled to see his works perverted into attacks against Jews.

The Sirens of Baghdad is the story of a student whose life is wrecked during the American invasion, leading him to join a radical group planning a mission that is “a thousand times more awesome than the attacks of September 11.”

A student detained for making fun of Hussein is the protagonist of I’jaam. In jail he writes a sarcastic history of life under Saddam, omitting all diacritical dots, and thereby altering his text and hiding his contempt. (I wish I knew more about the Arabic language . . . )

It’s great to see that Arabic books about Iraq are making their way into English, although it sort of supports by quasi-serious hypothesis that readers are most interested in books from the countries America bombs.


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