The novel “Khuzama” by the Iraqi writer Sinan Antun, published by Al-Jamal Publications 2023, discusses the issue of human identity and the personal and social conflicts surrounding it, and the extent of the self’s connection to place and roots, or the ability to separate from them.
The events of the novel revolve around two Iraqi characters, each of whom goes in a different direction. Sami tries to regain his memory of things, and preserve what remains of the attitudes linking him to place and roots after he found himself living as an immigrant in America, escaping from the war. He was afflicted with a type of mental dementia, and he falls out of his mind. His memory is the life he lived, his attitudes and his memories.
Omar, on the other hand, immigrates to America to escape his identity and the painful memories and injustice he was exposed to during the reign of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who had his ear cut off by the Iraqi army for escaping conscription service.
Although the two characters are separated throughout the narrative, the end contains a dramatic surprise that brings them together.
It is stated in the novel: “Vocabularies and terminology are compresses of varying sizes and shapes, placed on silence, after it or shortly before it, in order to hide the wound and erase the ugliness. An incident, a topic, an incident, a past, a story. They are all vocabulary that is said so that the truth, with its ugliness, is not told. It covers it and cannot be covered by anything that cannot be said, but it is seen, a slaughtered ear, of which only appendages remain.”
“Khuzama” devotes its space over 256 medium-sized pages to researching the composition of Iraqi society and the composition of the Iraqi immigrant person by dealing with the facts during the era of Saddam Hussein, as well as during the American occupation of Iraq and the subsequent contradictions related to human identity and the relationship of man to the land, which is the novel. The fifth in the writer's history.
Sinan Antun says to Al Jazeera Net, “Refuge from one place to another and from one country to another, most of the time, is an escape from a difficult or painful and even dangerous reality to a ‘beach’, literally and figuratively, that is supposed to be safer and a more spacious land, and we live in a time when dozens are dying.” Every day they try to migrate and escape from wars, tyrants and poverty.”
Antoun continues, “Writing is travel, but it is imaginary and optional, to places, people, and times, but it is a trip that is not fraught with dangers to one’s life, in which one does not have to adapt to a new life, and in which the writer does not pay a tax or risk his life. Death here is metaphorical (readers’ boredom or inability to writing or boredom).
As the features of the fictional event drawn from reality change, and its form and details vary, its essence remains, and it is the thread that the writer holds to reach the origin through research and memory, but he follows his senses, feelings, and thoughts about the event to present it according to his own vision, which is actually subject to the factor of time, so that it seems The method of wording and construction details are subject to later times.
Antoun tells us that he spent 6 years drafting Khuzama’s novel, and he added many details and deleted some.
He informs us that “a large part of the events of the novel and the fate of one of the two characters takes place after 2003 and the outcome of the invasion and occupation and is affected by it.”
He says, “There are questions and concerns that were not raised in 2003, and one of the themes of the novel is essentially the arguments before and after 2003 and the loss of memory, both individual and collective.”
The picture of the two characters in Khuzama’s novel seems as if it cannot be drawn without imagining the social cultural overlap associated with both of them. Each character has its social roots that participated in shaping it and presenting it as stated in the work, but these overlaps remain unshaded, sometimes appearing in the narrative and then disappearing.
Sinan Antun believes that “collective culture is not necessarily a homogeneous bloc. There are currents and conflicts, and there is a dominant culture and marginalized and ostracized cultures.”
He added, “Culture is a concept that is difficult to define fundamentally in a precise and specific way. However, the individual interacts from the moment of birth with the cultural environment, and social and economic conditions place him in a certain position vis-à-vis cultures. The relationship is dialectical and one of struggle or submission, consciously and without it.”
The space of imagination in “Khuzama” seems intertwined with the events related to the work, which followed the American invasion of Iraq and the practices that preceded it during the era of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The realistic events were a starting point for the writer to rely on in order to stimulate his fictional imagination and present the narrative in a “super-human” way.
Anton says, “The main and pivotal events in Lavender are realistic, but imagination is always an important factor in writing. I cannot specify in detail.”
He continues, “Sometimes I forget that there are things that I imagined, and even characters that are imagined but inspired by reality become real after I live with them for years.”
In an era in which technology has taken over and the world has become digital, the human identity that the writer is trying to present in “Lavender” has become a matter of controversy and has become in need of perhaps new definitions.
Anton believes that “there is no single human identity, and there was never a single human identity. There are ideologies, discourses and philosophies centered around a certain self and one human identity, but they were in essence exclusionary, because the self that was supposed to be universal was in fact a European male.” Of a certain race and class that views the world and human beings with a superior and racist outlook that excludes and produces the other on whom negative meanings are projected.”
The Iraqi writer continues, “We are in an era of liquidity, chaos, and fragmentation. Technology and virtual platforms are a double-edged sword. They allow humans to communicate and mobilize, rhetorically and virtually, and organize themselves and try to change their reality, but they are also tools that authorities and regimes can penetrate to control, monitor, and repress.”
He continues, “Every technology appears with the promise of changing the world and making it a better place, but in this era of late capitalism, this technology is exploited for profit and capital accumulation, and Twitter, which Musk bought, is a good example.”
The boldness of words
The problem of bold pronunciation in the Arabic novel remains a matter of controversy among cultural circles, which the writer Sinan Antun sees from his perspective as not existing in the custom of the novel. He says, “There are words that we hear every day and that people use in their conversations. Novels and literary texts are for adults, and they are about the real world that We live in it, and it is not about an imaginary world or a utopia for conservatives in which self-censorship is practiced, removing and eliminating everything that might disturb or surprise the reader.”
He continues, “Talk about outrages of modesty has become more problematic in recent decades. There is ignorance and neglect of the history of Arabic literature. It is enough for one to look at samples of Arabic literature from the oldest eras to realize that the standards that some people use these days to judge the morality of a literary text are strange standards. “The irony has nothing to do with local cultural history.”
The image in the modern novel remains one of the most important pillars that the writer relies on by creating influential scenes that make a difference with readers.
In turn, Lebanese critic Fawzi Thebian believes that “the central image that Antoun wanted to employ in the recipient’s mind in his latest work, ‘Khuzama’, is to replace dilapidated places with words.”
Thebian says, “Words may compensate for the loss of belonging to a specific geographical space when this space turns into a cemetery overflowing with corpses from all sides. Words may not respond to this hope, but rather they are as they were formulated in “Khuzama.” They may be the final fate, and all hopes towards them have vanished. It is up to man to remain above this earth.”
Concerning the narration messages in the novel “Khuzama,” the critic Dhubyan believes that “the narration in this work is based largely on directness. None of the characters in the novel seek to distract the recipient with ambiguity and ambiguity about their inner beings. The delivery of messages in this work is not based on evasion, deception, and misleading the reader with what It goes against the basic theme.”
Dhabian continues, “We are all displaced in this world. Bereavement in general calls for immediacy in this fast-paced world. Hiddenness and appearance, darkness and clarity in the presence of bereavement are the same. Is there any bereavement greater than the bereavement of losing oneself, which constitutes the depth of the characters in the work that is the subject of these questions?!” “.
As for the method of presentation, Dhubyan believes that “the technique that draws the features of “Khuzama” is more related to the content than to the form, and he says, “It is inevitable that the recipient may surprise the author while reading the work, as the history of the reception teaches us. It is a “technique” based on asking major questions about Homeland, oblivion, memory, belonging, death, dissolution or flow.”
Dhibian continues, “What distinguishes this presentation is that it was done in a direct way without burdening the reader with poetic or theoretical language or with an impetus that invokes philosophy, for example. The technique here is the set of questions on which this work is based, meaning that the narrative process is dependent on these questions in terms of shaping this process.” And it develops as the pages turn.”
The critic continues, speaking about the character of the novel, saying, “Even his apparent desire to obtain American citizenship is, in some aspects, an overwhelming desire for non-belonging. Iraq is no longer a homeland, and America, in turn, will not be an alternative homeland. Perhaps that false declaration of belonging to a third homeland is an embodiment of this desire for non-belonging.” .
He concludes, “I see no harm in interrogating literature, perhaps beyond the intention of its writer, for this is where the joy of reading lies in the first place.”