One of NPR's Best Books of 2017!
A groundbreaking anthology of science fiction from Iraq that will challenge your perception of what it means to be “The Other”
“History is a hostage, but it will bite through the gag you tie around its mouth, bite through and still be heard.”Operation Daniel
In a calm and serene world, one has the luxury of imagining what the future might look like.
Now try to imagine that future when your way of life has been devastated by forces beyond your control.
Iraq + 100 poses a question to Iraqi writers (those who still live in that nation, and those who have joined the worldwide diaspora): What might your home country look like in the year 2103, a century after a disastrous foreign invasion?
Using science fiction, allegory, and magical realism to challenge the perception of what it means to be “The Other”, this groundbreaking anthology edited by Hassan Blasim contains stories that are heartbreakingly surreal, and yet utterly recognizable to the human experience. Though born out of exhaustion, fear, and despair, these stories are also fueled by themes of love, family, and endurance, and woven through with a delicate thread of hope for the future.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)|
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The day Kahramana was to be wed to Mullah Hashish, she stabbed him in the right eye and ran to the American Annex of Sulaymania.
The local media of the Islamic Empire of Wadi Hashish had not yet caught up on the matter. While the rest of the world was using holographics (because maintaining fiber optic cables across Water War zones had proved impossible), Wadi Hashish considered anything but paper newspapers printed on metal presses to be western blasphemy. Plus the people of Wadi Hashish were never in a hurry.
By the time Kahramana had snuck out of the last Wadi Hashish checkpoint, Akhbar Al Imara (News of the Empire) had just ran this on their front page:
Oh what a joyous day of jubilation. Allahu Akbar! The Islamic State of Wadi Hashish today wears its festive green and black ribbons on every streetlamp. Civil servants have been ordered by the great, the brave lion, the sword of Allah, Amir Mullah Hashish — May Allah reward him in abundance — to cook giant pots of lamb stew at every intersection to feed the poor, as a gesture of his generosity, on the day he is to wed the most beautiful woman in the Empire (according to our sisters, as the virtuous Amir — May Allah reward him in abundance — has never laid eyes on a woman before), no other than our blue-eyed sister, Kahramana. The grand wedding reception for men will be held in the courtyard outside Wadi Hashish Municipality tomorrow at sunset. Attendance is mandatory.
'Eat shit!' said Lieutenant Abdulhadi as he tossed the newspaper aside and rubbed its ink off his fingers. NATO in Baghdadistan were the biggest consumers of Akhbar Al Imara. They had no idea what happened up north, he thought. Baghdadistan analysts just gobbled up every word those metal printers spat out. It was the only way they could know what Mullah Hashish was up to since he never went digital. The Lieutenant had been sent to the Islamic Empire border under NATO orders. He missed the sandy, sunny, humid climate of Port Basra and hated the bone-dry freezing wind up in this place. Ever since NATO had hit the Empire with its sterility gas, it had snowed all year across the northwest side of Iraq, all the way to the Mediterranean. The sterility germs hadn't worked, because the Hashishans were still breeding like cockroaches, only now in six feet of snow.
At the end of his shift, the Lieutenant climbed into his trailer, dropped onto his bed, kicked off his knee-length boots and sat there, rotating the stiffness out of his ankles. He was staring through the window and letting out deep puffs from a cigarette he'd confiscated, when gradually he realised he was looking at a woman tangled up in the barbed wire.
'What now, goddamn it!'
He climbed into his boots again, grabbed his machine gun and coat, and walked out toward her.
'Go back, get back,' Abdulhadi waved at the woman. 'No Nations Union League trailers here. Go away!' But she stayed put until he was an arm-stretch away — then she revealed her face. Her skin was like marble and she had plump red lips and the nose of a television star. Her face was lightly dotted with pink freckles. Her most prominent features, however, were her dark-blue eyes. They sent a shiver through Abdulhadi colder than the frostbite in his ink-stained fingers. A strand of her bluish-black hair snuck out of her headscarf and twirled in the breeze. Kahramana was the most beautiful woman Lieutenant Abdulhadi had ever seen. He had also never seen blue eyes before. 'I beg you, brother,' she interrupted his stare, 'they will kill me.' Her eyes were welling up now. Mesmerized by her, Abdulhadi clicked back the safety on his firearm, turned his back to her and gestured with his hand for her to go.
Kahramana walked for another day and a half until she saw the blue flag of the NUL. There, she was strip-searched, de-liced, and sub-categorized by posture, teeth, size, skin colour, and finally by age before queuing up for fingerprinting, DNA registering, and to have her head shaved. She wept for her long hair. In all her sixteen years, this was her very first haircut.
But the bald head only made Kahramana's eyes stand out more. They were so prominent that all the women in the female quarters avoided her and started to spin stories about how she would use witchcraft to win over the soldiers and NUL officials.
They were right. How else could you explain why Kahramana started to be picked again and again by the NUL, to represent migrants at the strategic emergency workshops? Her face was featured in all NUL emergency appeal broadcasts since she arrived at the camp.
But the women especially despised Kahramana because her pleading eyes appeared on a giant NUL billboard at the entrance of the camp. Her deep-blue irises were the size of truck tires, staring down at everyone who entered the camp.
The Americans, however, were accustomed to all shades of blue eyes, and Kahramana didn't move them. Her rape-asylum case took three years of multiple rejections and appeals before any ruling was made.
During this time, Kahramana was examined by two of the three medical and psychological committees: the first chaired by the New York-based Acts For Humanity to determine if Kahramana displayed the appropriate psychological symptoms of a rape victim (they let everyone pass!); the second committee consisted of migrant doctors from the camp, operating under guidance of NUL doctors in NYC, to do a virginity test. The third and final stage would have been a face-to-face interview at the Annex, an hour's drive from the camp, to determine whether the sex was consensual or indeed forced, upon which the woman would be granted rape-asylum status. But since Kahramana had gouged Mullah Hashish's eyeball out before he'd had a chance to consummate the matrimony, the second committee decided that Kahramana was a virgin, thus could not possibly have been raped. Her case never made it to the third committee, and even then it would still have been for the U.S. Annex of Sulaymania to make the final decision.
But Kahramana's face had not gone unnoticed. Lobby groups started to march in support of her outside the Annex perimeter, banging pots and burning flags. For months, they would gather to throw kalashes at the perimeter fence, yelling 'Rape comes in all forms!', until eventually the NUL intervened and allowed Kahramana to have a face-to-face interview with a migration officer at the Annex.
The Annex's Chief Immigration Officer — a redheaded Texan who gave the ultimate 'yay' or 'nay' to any appeal — was hunched in his chair scribbling down notes on his touch-pad with his pinky. He was struggling to decode, in his broken Arabic, what Kahramana was saying until toward the end of the interview, she leaned across at him and tugged at his sleeve. She pointed at the television bolted to a wall in the interviewing room. The Texan squealed, staring at the image of the man who just happened to be on at that moment. 'Sweet Jesus, THAT was your husband!?'
Mullah Hashish was in a black frock and turban, waving a threatening index finger and yelling at his disciples standing under the pulpit: 'We will send them all to Hell.'
Word got out. Kahramana was hailed as a hero A U.S.-Sulaymania News reporter appeared on television, standing outside the Visa Hall at the Annex border.
Reporter: A remarkable story of bravery and survival. Just sixteen years old, Kahramana managed to attack and significantly wound the head of the so-called Islamic Empire after he tried to rape her. Kahramana is now undergoing psychiatric therapy and ...
Anchor: Jason, is there any news on her immigration appeal? I mean surely they cannot send her back!
Reporter: The Annex government is yet to come up with a decision on that. But, as you can see behind me, there are crowds appealing [the protestors whistle and cheer] for Kahramana to be granted asylum.
Anchor: Keep us updated. Thank you, Jason.
Two days later, Akhbar Al Imara ran this on the front page with a title in red ink — which was remarkable because they only ever used black or, on religious occasions, green for their headlines.
The great, the brave lion, the sword of Allah, Amir Mullah Hashish — May Allah reward him in abundance — has vowed to cut off the head of Kahramana, the serpent corrupting our pure sisters and brothers with her filth, after the Amir Mullah Hashish — May Allah reward him in abundance — discovered that Kahramana was not the pure virgin she pretended to be. Kahramana confessed to the Amir — May Allah reward him in abundance — that she had committed filthy acts of adultery with no less than twelve other men and three women who will all be beheaded in the courtyard outside Wadi Hashish Municipality tomorrow at sunset. Attendance is mandatory.
On top of this was a grainy photo of men and women in shackles and red overalls, on their knees, looking miserable, with four men in black hoodies labeled with a green 'anarchy' sign made of two crossing machetes. They were brandishing their vintage (and no doubt broken) AK-47s at the camera, grinning.
A week later the women's rights group Kuchan Sulemani hijacked the Annex's armoured truck carrying thousands of copies of Akhbar Al Imara. They loaded the newspapers into their van and sped off, having taken the driver out with a sedative dart. The Kuchan Sulemani activists then appeared at the Annex's main border gate, the following dawn, to erect a large papier mâché art instillation made of thousands of copies of Akhbar Al Imara, just in front of the Visa Hall. Plastered across every surface of the installation was the front page of Akhbar Al Imara, as well as large print-offs of the three women accused of having sex with Kahramana. Each face was the size of a car's front windshield. Another print-off, of Kahramana's face as it appeared in so many NUL publications, was also plastered on it, along with a Sorani Kurdish phrase hailing her a feminist icon. The activists were tear-gassed away a few hours later, along with the local press who had shown up to cover the story.
Kahramana stared at the sight of her face appearing sporadically across the new items on the TV screen bolted to the wall of the restaurant. She was fascinated by all the attention she was getting. There she was, eating well up on the eighth floor of Freedom Fires Tower, with the Women's Rights' Attaché from the American Annex of Sulaymania. The attaché had come to congratulate Kahramana on winning her appeal to stay in Sulaymania. She was also there to discuss Kahramana's nomination for the Courageous Women's Award. The attaché gently touched Kahramana's arm, telling her how much she sympathized with her ordeal. The Iraqi interpreter mechanically touched her other arm as she translated.
Kahramana bowed her head and said nothing. She was contemplating the matter while sipping her soda. Only she knew that on that day, retiring to her master's chamber early and dressed in only the most tantalizing of undergarments, she had caught Mullah Hashish, pants around his ankles, with another man. The other man hiked up his pants and bolted, leaving Mullah Hashish to fall to his knees with his face in his hands.
She knew that Mullah Hashish would never let his secret out. He, who called homosexuality a 'foul Western concept' and ruled that all homosexuals should be 'eaten alive by wolves'— he would stop at nothing to keep her from spilling this secret. He was going to kill her.
Kahramana looked at the interpreter. The interpreter looked at the attaché. Kahramana leaned forward and, copying her, all three women huddled so close their heads almost touched. Kahramana began to tell them how, on the night of her wedding, she caught Mullah Hashish forcing himself on another woman. The woman was crying for help so Kahramana attacked Mullah Hashish and freed the woman. They both ran for the border but the other woman did not make it. 'What happened to the other woman?' asked the attaché. 'She was eaten by wolves,' said Kahramana.
Anchor: Jason, remarkable news that Kahramana has finally been granted asylum and she's been nominated for this prestigious award! Tell us what's going on over there.
Reporter: Well, as you can see, the crowd behind me here — they have gathered to celebrate Kahramana receiving the Courageous Women's Award and for her finally being granted asylum. It has been a long struggle, a long road to this victory. I have with me here Sherein Agha, chair of the NGO, Kuchan Sulemani, who has long fought for Kahramana's case and other women like her.
[The camera moves to put both Sherein and Jason in the frame.]
Reporter: So you must be very proud of today's success. Tell us your thoughts about these announcements and what they mean.
Sherein: Well yes, clearly we're very glad at how things turned out for Kahramana; she's a brave woman and it's been a remarkable journey. But she is only one of tens of thousands of ... our figures estimated at least a hundred twenty thousand women ... who are at the mercy of men like Mullah Hashish in the so-called 'Empire'. Men who think it is acceptable to murder and rape women and to perform genital mutilation on young girls. This battle is far from over and ... [Sherein raises both hands to gesture hopelessness.]
Anchor: Jason, I have to cut you and Miss Agha short there. Thank you very much.
A week later Akhbar Al Imara posted a photo of the now-officially-one-eyed Mullah Hashish in his signature black frock and turban. This time, and for the first time, he was surrounded by six pregnant women standing sideways, three to his left and three to his right so that their huge bellies could be seen, despite the flowing black garments they worecovering everything but their eyes. Mullah Hashish was standing in the middle pointing his index finger threateningly as per. Underneath a caption read: 'We will outnumber them and send them all to Hell.'
The news story read:
By order of the great, the brave lion, the sword of Allah, Amir Mullah Hashish — May Allah reward him in abundance — all women must be either pregnant or breastfeeding at all times. Men must follow the example of the great steed with his many wives and marry as many women as they can afford. All men must have a minimum of three wives as an expression of commitment to populate the glorious empire and outnumber the enemy. Men whose wives are not pregnant or breastfeeding will be called in for questioning, counselling and medical assessment. When called, attendance is mandatory.
But in NATO-run Baghdadistan, few were worried. In fact, the day Akhbar Al Imara ran their story, NATO officials could be seen in cafés all over the city, reading their copies and twitching with joy. They had finally figured out the sterility-gas weapon thing, or so they thought. Jason was chasing that story, as he did last time.
Kahramana put the stained newspaper down to give her full attention to the tall and handsome Central Annex Intelligence officer who had come to question her one more time about what she knew of the mysterious Mullah Hashish. Kahramana was excited to see that he had blue eyes just like her. She pointed to her eyes then at his, nodding and smiling at the interpreter. The dull and puffy-faced interpreter looked at the CAI offer: 'You got that?' 'Yup,' he replied without looking up, scribbling away with his pinky on his pad.
It was another long and boring interview, and it turned out this CAI officer was almost as dumb as Mullah Hashish. He kept asking her the same questions over and over. Now and then Kahramana secretly snuck glances sideways at the crowds gathering in the snow, far below, like ants behind the giant T-walls. They were waiting to get onto the Sulaymania side — the sunny side. One after the other, their visas would be rejected, Kahramana thought. She smirked at the stupid CAI officer. But he didn't notice, he was too busy poking holes in her story.
A week later Kahramana was detained for giving false evidence. Her deportation was scheduled for a fortnight after the interview with the blue-eyed intelligence officer.
Kuchan Sulemani activists half-heartedly banged their pots and burned Annex flags for Kahramana. But this time media didn't even show up. They were too busy filming the nationalist flag-heads swinging bricks at the NUL headquarters in Erbil and chanting for the deportation of all Arab refugees. The paparazzi retweeted an alleged sex tape of Kahramana which the flag-heads circulated from an earlier meme that Wadi Hashish had used to show Kahramana was not a virgin.
The NUL took Kahramana back to the camp and stalled her deportation for a further six months, trying to delay the inevitable. Kahramana cried and cried until her eyes turnedblack and her hair started showing grey and her face wrinkled. Then came deportation day.
Excerpted from "IRAQ + 100"
Copyright © 2016 remains with the authors and translators.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Table of Contents
Hassan Blasim / Translated by Jonathan Wright
THE GARDENS OF BABYLON
Hassan Blasim / Translated by Jonathan Wright
Ali Bader / Translated by Elisabeth Jaquette
Diaa Jubaili / Translated by Andrew Leber
THE DAY BY DAY MOSQUE
Mortada Gzar / Translated by Katharine Halls
Zhraa Alhaboby / Translated by Emre Bennett
Khalid Kaki / Translated by Adam Talib
THE HERE AND NOW PRISON
Jalal Hasan / Translated by Max Weiss