Book Review: Sinan Antoon pays tribute to war’s forgotten losses

The book is written by Sinan Antoon. (Supplied)
Updated 16 June 2019

Book Review: Sinan Antoon pays tribute to war’s forgotten losses

  • The story follows the life of introspective academic Nameer Al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi living in the US
  • It was written by internationally celebrated author Sinan Antoon

CHICAGO: Out of Baghdad comes “The Book of Collateral Damage” by internationally celebrated author Sinan Antoon, whose fourth novel follows the life of introspective academic Nameer Al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi living in the US. An encounter in Baghdad with an eccentric bookseller while travelling with documentary filmmakers as a translator leads Nameer to a manuscript that forces him to explore memories of the past, the loss of his home and the destruction caused by war.

The year is 2003 and Nameer is moving from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to teach at Dartmouth. Before moving, he travels back to Iraq for the first time since 1993. Encountering his old home, his relatives and the streets he used to travel, Nameer finds himself at a bookseller’s shop on Al-Mutannabi Street. The stall owner, Wadood, hands him a manuscript in which he has documented everything destroyed by war, from inanimate objects, to people to the flora and fauna. Intrigued by Wadood’s book, he takes it back to the US with him and finds himself suddenly consumed by it.

Through Nameer, Antoon takes his readers on a journey that is profound and deeply rooted in Iraq and its culture. From classical poetry collections and the last days of Abbasid-era caliph Harun Al-Rashid, to the Kashan rugs made in Iraq and sold as if from Iran to the Ziziphus tree — all have witnessed the destruction caused by war. Wadood’s cataloging of “the losses that are never mentioned or seen. Not just people. Animals and plants and inanimate things and anything that can be destroyed” are painfully explored.

The first-person narrative allows Antoon to bring to life an intense sense of heartbreak that inevitably follows political turmoil and devastation. There is a back and forth in his novel between Nameer and Wadood’s manuscript — narratives that parallel to one another. And there is a magical realism as he personifies inanimate objects who feel love and sorrow, who feel their own deaths when bombs fall down on them and fires engulf them. Tragedy befalls the lives of people who are victims of power, but also befalls objects that are the collateral damage of powerful people’s wars.

Emirati horror movies explore region’s fascination with the supernatural

Updated 2 min 2 sec ago

Emirati horror movies explore region’s fascination with the supernatural

  • Horror films are fast emerging as a notable genre within the UAE's film industry
  • Horror films need neither big budgets nor marquee names to be effective

DUBAI: Whether it’s an audience need for escapism or a way to explore danger safely, horror films are fast emerging as a notable genre within the fledgeling Emirati film industry.

Several recent films have braved cinematic elements in recent years. Tobe Hooper’s “Djinn,” produced by Abu Dhabi production house Image Nation, broke the mold in 2013, and set new records as it explored the region’s fascination with the supernatural.

Emirati filmmaker Nayla Al-Khaja has recently finished “The Shadow,” a teaser for an extended feature believed to be based on actual events.

UAE-based Lebanese producer-director Rami Yasin is working on a vampire family drama, “Three Four Eternity,” for Image Nation.

Meanwhile, director Tariq Al-Kazim has begun pre-production on a sequel to 2017’s “A Tale of Shadows,” an English-language film about a gardener who is deeply disturbed by his experiences at a farm where he works.

The latest installment, “A Tale of Shadows: Illusions,” follows the story of a young girl who appears in a hospital, her body mysteriously drenched in blood. A local detective teams up with a journalist to investigate, and the pair land up at an eerie farm, where they find themselves enveloped in a world of illusion, chaos and madness.

The film is brought to life by an international cast, including Nigerian actor Chuka Ekweogwu, German actress Arzu Neuwirth and Swedish actor Almer Agmyren.

Emirati artist Samar Al-Shamsi, better known for the “Arab Mona Lisa” painting, also makes her screen debut in the film. 

Al-Kazim told Arab News that the film could reach cinemas early next year.

The filmmaker believes that horror movies allow him to reach audiences beyond his home country without breaking the bank.

“Horror is an interesting topic because regardless of where a person is from, when a movie is scary, it engenders fear,” Al-Kazim said.

The 26-year-old Emirati has been drawn to the genre since he was a child and has created a name for himself among regional horror fans.

Last year he released “Until Midnight,” which told the story of a newly married young man who encounters a stranger with evil intentions.

Horror films need neither big budgets or marquee names to be effective. “The Blair Witch Project,” for example, made $248 million on a budget of $60,000.

While this allows rookie filmmakers room to experiment, shoestring budgets cut both ways.

 Swedish actor Almer Agmyren. (Supplied)

“It’s actually tough to make a horror film. You need to be able to do it correctly without any mistakes, even in the split second of a frame,” Al-Kazim said.

“But that’s a challenge I like and one of the reasons I choose to make horror films.”

Although “A Tale of Shadows” was initially planned as a trilogy, positive response to the first instalment, which premiered in Dubai and played across the UAE, brought Al-Kazim back to the story.

The UAE film industry needs more incentives to make an impact internationally, he said, but Emirati filmmakers can reach broader audiences by tackling universal themes.

“I think we’re on the right track. However, more movies need to be developed. Without an increase in the number of movies, there will be fewer celebrities, a smaller market, fewer stories and less interest, so it all starts with having a big push to really build this industry,” he said.

“There are several ways to achieve a broader range of audiences, but it’s all about the story. It needs to be universally relatable.”


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.