Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Dreaming of Baghdad

One of the exercises I give my students is to ask them to list what they would take if they were suddenly forced into exile. This always results in profound and moving writing. Objects chosen range from a pinch of soil to a map of the London Underground.

An Iraqi exile is the poet, painter, novelist and Guardian columnist, Haifa Zangana. Her book, Dreaming of Baghdad, has just been published by the Feminist Press, New York City. One of the strongest parts for me is the chapter about Haifa’s mother attempting to visit her in Abu Ghraib in the 1970s where she was held as a political prisoner. “That little woman with big black eyes, full lips, and a round face, that woman who hated walking the streets alone, hated shopping alone, hated sleeping in the dark, went to the Ministry of Defense alone for weeks on end.” Haifa’s moving account of her mother trying to bring her food and clothing, not knowing whether she was alive or dead, reminds me of Anna Akhmatova’s searing poem, “Requiem”, one of whose stanzas is about a prison vigil when she was trying to visit her son during the Stalinist Terror. In a video interview I recently did with Haifa, she reads an excerpt from the chapter, “Heart, What Have You Seen”. To view it, click here. Stay tuned . . .

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