I'jaam denotes the practice of adding dots to letters of the Arabic alphabet to alter phonetic value. If dots are omitted, words can become ambiguous or inappropriate for their contexts. The young man who wrote the found manuscript whose transcription is this chilling short novel omitted dots, and so a song about the "great Leader" concludes with a phrase that translates one letter differently from "tucks us into bed." In his own eyes, the author has a right to be wry. He wanted an education, but the exigencies of war and the mounting tyranny of the Leader blasted his hopes. At the time of writing, although he has evaded conscription, he is a prisoner, as abused as any 15 years later in another jail in the same city, Baghdad. The Iran-Iraq War winds down, but Saddam Hussein's Ba'athism grows ever more repressive. The prisoner intersperses terse reports of his ordeal among memories of literary rebellion, friendship, and love. When at the end he is released, it is apparently into a deserted city, but where is he really? How has he been released? Olson, Ray
Sinan Antoon was born in Baghdad, Iraq. After the 1991 Gulf War, he left Iraq and settled in the US where he studied Arabic Literature at Georgetown and Harvard. His poems and essays (Arabic and English) have been published in leading journals and newspapers in the Arab world, as well as The Nation, al-Ahram Weekly and Middle East Report.