I IS FOR IRAQ and I IS FOR ISRAEL
I am so grateful to Sadok Masliyah for translating Samir Naqqash’s masterpiece. This is the kind of treasure I hope to discover in my literary world travels. An Iraqi Jew who fled to Palestine from the pogroms as a child, Samir Naqqash was forever torn between his identities as a Jew and as a writer in Arabic.
In “Tenants and Cobwebs” Naqqash recreated the world of his childhood, Baghdad in the aftermath of Farhud, the pogrom, and the increasing anti-semitic politics influenced by European nazism. I will never be able to judge this novel fairly because I did not read the Arabic original, but Masliyah’s translation carefully, eloquently, masterfully preserved the cacophony of one residential complex where Jews and Muslims live together, and are brought closer by longing, or separated by propaganda. I understand that the original is supposed to be a catalogue of all kinds of Baghdadi dialects, but even in the translation it was pretty well reflected.
I kept thinking about the great Abkhazian writer Fazil Iskander, who is similar to Naqqash in scope, humor and humanity, but whom I did read in the Russian language original, and so I was always able to imagine what depths could be hidden in the Arabic text. I will now constantly add “-choka-boka” to names as a term of endearment. And in addition to the dialects, the structure, and the narrative devices of this novel are utterly original and completely different from the Western tradition, which made the reading even more thrilling.
Tenants & Cobwebs by Samir Naqqash,
Translated from Arabic by Sadok Masliyah
Published by Syracuse University Press in 2018