Book Review: A testament to creativity and imagination

Book Review: A testament to creativity and imagination
Science fiction is not common in the Arab world and that is exactly what makes this Iraqi book so special.
Updated 12 September 2017

Book Review: A testament to creativity and imagination

Book Review: A testament to creativity and imagination

“Iraq + 100: Stories from a century after the invasion” is a collection of short science fiction stories by 10 Iraqi authors. The authors, some of whom live in Iraq and some of whom live abroad, imagine what the country will be like in the year 2103.
Edited by Hassan Blasim and originally suggested by Blasim’s publisher, Ra Page, the idea first came up in 2003 as a way to deal with the US invasion of Iraq. Considering science fiction stories are not common in the Arab world, Blasim wrote to many authors to convince them to write a futuristic story based on his belief that “writing about the future would give them the space to breathe outside the narrow confines of today’s reality.”
Blasim received a multitude of stories, in both Arabic and English, which he compiled to create this book.
Many stories stem from oppression, religious fanaticism and capitalist nightmares. Most of the tales are heartbreaking in their own way, as they lay bare the injustice that has riddled Iraq. One such story is titled “Kahramana” by an author called Anoud. The story is set in Sulaymaniyah and centers on Kahramana, who has been coerced into a forced marriage but flees to an international court in the hope that she will be allowed asylum elsewhere. Crowds rally behind her, but as her case takes years, and goes through its own ups and downs, the crowds begin to dwindle and the attention she once received disappears. The story exposes the futility of support and highlights the notion that crowds will rally until time and patience run out, leaving the victims to be forgotten.
This experience is not limited to one country, it is a worldwide tragedy and sadly repeats itself when humans become desensitized to the loss of life.
Creativity and imagination play an important role in the collection as authors such as Blasim, Hassan Abdulrazzak, Mortada Gzar and Khalid Kaki delve into advanced technological visions of Iraq. In “The Gardens of Babylon,” written by Blasim and translated by Johnathon Wright, Babylon is a playground for “virus architects and software artists.” Water is scarce but the Chinese have established a system to counter environmental shortcomings. In Kaki’s story, “Operation Daniel,” translated by Adam Talib, the past is frowned upon and ancient languages and literature are prohibited. Powerful overlords such as Gao Dong, who renames Kirkuk “Gao’s Flame,” believe that citizens are their beneficiaries and must “protect the state’s present from the threat of the past.” In Abdulrazzak’s story, “Kuszib,” life has changed entirely and no semblance of the old world exists.
The authors in this book do not shy away from bleak visions of the future, visions that have arisen from the destructive political and environmental policies of current-day Iraq. Climate change, depleting natural resources and rampant poverty cause the characters to yearn for a time before political struggle tainted the lives of Iraq’s inhabitants. “The Corporal,” written by Ali Bader and translated by Elisabeth Jaquette, is one such story. A fallen Iraqi soldier comes back to the world to tell future Iraqis who he was. He tells whoever will listen that he was born in 1960, served in the Iraqi army for 22 years, faced war for most of his time on earth and died for reasons misunderstood. It highlights the limited opportunities people ravaged by war have when it comes to choosing their own destiny.
Diaa Jubaili, Zhraa Al-Haboby, Jalal Hassan and Ibrahim Al-Marashi focus on futures in which citizens speak of the past and refuse to forget it. There is a particular longing for peace and tranquility in their stories, especially in “The Here and Now Prison,” written by Hassan and translated by Max Weiss. This theme is also prevalent in “Baghdad Syndrome,” written by Al-Haboby and translated by Emre Bennett, in which the older characters still refer to streets by their old names, still dream of Baghdad and revel in a beautiful past.
Each author touches upon Iraq’s tragic history and its bleak future. The destruction of the environment plays as important a role as the destruction of the country. Powerful overlords, authoritarian regimes and the continued limitation of life and freedom are presented in nearly every story, revealing powerful insight into the visions these creative talents have of Iraq’s future. However, a longing for the past keeps hope alive in the stories and allows the reader to revel in a past unknown to them, one that is not forgotten and one that will be carried through time, despite war and invasion. The memories of human life and history cannot be taken away as long as they are written about and remembered and this compilation is a testament to the hope that resides in remembrance, creativity and imagination.


Renowned US authors Tayari Jones, Brent Weeks join Abu Dhabi Book Fair lineup

US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)
US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)
Updated 11 May 2021

Renowned US authors Tayari Jones, Brent Weeks join Abu Dhabi Book Fair lineup

US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)

DUBAI: Renowned US fantasy author Brent Weeks, US author Tayari Jones, Emirati writer Eman Alyousuf and Kuwaiti writer Taleb Alrefai are all set to participate at the upcoming Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Organised by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre at the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, the 30th edition of ADIBF will see the participation of more than 800 exhibitors from 46 countries around the world, and will comprise more than 104 virtual and physical sessions.

Dr. Ali bin Tamim, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, said: “Despite the challenges we have faced in the wake of the pandemic, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is committed to ramping up its efforts to support the publishing industry and to promote cross-cultural dialogue. We are proud to host this event which reinforces our position as one of the most prominent intellectual and literary forums in region, and gives us the opportunity to highlight Arab literary output while simultaneously celebrating the pioneers of arts and culture from across the world.”

As part of its cultural programme, the fair will feature the artistic and literary works of authors and artists from multiple fields. Among those will be American author Tayari Jones, considered one of the most important writers of her generation, who will hold a session to discuss her latest work. In another session, the fantasy great Weeks will talk about the importance of science fiction novels in transporting readers away from the monotony of their daily lives. Providing a regional perspective, Kuwait’s Alrefai will participate in a dialogue with Emirati writer Alyousuf, to discuss how the pandemic has encouraged reading.

British television presenter and historian Bettany Hughes will join a conversation about the impact of plagues and pandemics on civilisations, while Emirati writer Sultan Al-Amimi will speak about with the importance of short stories and their role in enhancing literary diversity. .


What We Are Reading Today: Gridiron Genius by Michael Lombard

What We Are Reading Today: Gridiron Genius by Michael Lombard
Updated 11 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Gridiron Genius by Michael Lombard

What We Are Reading Today: Gridiron Genius by Michael Lombard

In Gridiron Genius, former NFL general manager and three-time Super Bowl winner Michael Lombardi reveals what makes football organizations tick at the championship level. 

From personnel to practice to game-day decisions that win titles, Lombardi shares what he learned working with coaching legends Bill Walsh of the 49ers, Al Davis of the Raiders, and Bill Belichick of the Patriots, among others, during his three decades in football.

In this book, Lombardi provides the blueprint that makes a successful organization click and win — and the mistakes unsuccessful organizations make that keep them on the losing side time and again.  

He explains how the smartest leaders script everything: From an afternoon’s special-teams practice to a season’s playoff run to a decade-long organizational blueprint. From how to build a team, to how to watch a game, to understanding the essential qualities of great leaders, Gridiron Genius gives football fans the knowledge to be the smartest person in the room every Sunday.


What We Are Reading Today: Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher

What We Are Reading Today: Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher
Updated 10 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher

What We Are Reading Today: Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher

This is a long and dense book, but any effort expended in the reading is exponentially rewarded. 

In Wonderworks, Angus Fletcher, a Renaissance literature scholar at Ohio State University, attempts a practical approach to putting the humanities back on the map. 

Fletcher takes a close look at the power of innovations in literature to improve human happiness, and he analyzes these effects on the physical body.

Wonderworks “is an unusual, thought-provoking book. It mixes history, literature, and neuroscience to create essentially a self-help book where the cure for what ails you is a certain element of literature,” said a review on goodreads.com. 

In 25 chapters, Fletcher “travels from the first stories told in caves to the present day showing, comparing and contracting how literature works, and why its messages, when done right, can be so compelling,” the review added. 

It said the book “details various literary inventions, their potential origin from ancient times, and further development through contemporary authors, and ties each one to psychological benefits for readers.”


What We Are Reading Today: Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton

What We Are Reading Today: Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton
Updated 09 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton

What We Are Reading Today: Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton

Madhouse at the End of the Earth is a must-read book for anyone interested in polar exploration and geographic discovery.

It is a fictionalized account of an actual Belgian expedition to the Antarctic, in the final years of the 19th century, and is based on a multitude of journals and reports.

In this epic tale, Sancton unfolds a story of adventure gone horribly awry.

“It is a fascinating and exciting story of endurance, with a flowing narrative and characters well described and full of depth,” said a review in goodreads.com.

It offers a gripping account of the de Gerlache Antarctic expedition of 1897-1899, in which the ship became frozen in the ice for the entire winter. 

It is also the story of the friendship between the ship’s doctor, Dr. Frederick Albert Cook, and Roald Amundsen, who was at the beginning of his career as an explorer.

The author uses a lot of primary sources such as diaries.

“Anyone who values a human story in trying conditions, under desperate circumstances, will completely enjoy this book,” said the review.


What We Are Reading Today: Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe

What We Are Reading Today: Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe
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Updated 08 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe

What We Are Reading Today: Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe

Author: Niall Ferguson

Drawing from multiple disciplines, including economics and network science, Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe offers not just a history but a general theory of disaster.
The book falls into multiple parts, the first of which forms the bulk of the text with an examination of disasters throughout history, both natural and man-made, some in the deep past, others in more recent memory.
As author Niall Ferguson shows, governments “must learn to become less bureaucratic if we are to avoid the impending doom of irreversible decline,” said a review on goodreads.com.
“While populist rulers certainly performed poorly in the face of the pandemic, Ferguson argues that more profound pathologies were at work — pathologies already visible in our responses to earlier disasters,” said the review.
It said that Ferguson “examines various plagues through the ages, as knowledge of how they work gradually grew, and how such knowledge was usually ignored or abused by those in power.”