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I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody [Paperback]

Sinan Antoon
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

June 1 2007

An inventory of the General Security headquarters in central Baghdad reveals an obscure manuscript. Written by a young man in detention, the prose moves from prison life, to adolescent memories, to frightening hallucinations, and what emerges is a portrait of life in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

In the tradition of Kafka’s The Trial or Orwell’s 1984, I’jaam offers insight into life under an oppressive political regime and how that oppression works. This is a stunning debut by a major young Iraqi writer-in-exile.

Sinan Antoon has been published in leading international journals and has co-directed About Baghdad, an acclaimed documentary about Iraq under US occupation.


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From Booklist

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

About the Author

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.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent April 24 2014
By tamara
Format:Paperback
Excellent book for a great author
The book describes the suffering of young man during Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and what happen in prisons of such a dictatorship.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars all dreams are not lost, even if they are extremely hidden March 21 2008
By Bethany L. Canfield - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I'jaam is completely different than anything I've ever read. I rarely give books, even good books such a large number of snaps. Several times throughout the book I was horrified, others I was drawn into love, and throughout the entire book a common theme of fear and terror is dreadfully looming. If I'jaam doesn't smack you in the face to say wake up! it is already too late for you, blood has left your veins cold. I had to try my hardest and not underline the entire text! It was that good.

I'jaam is a novel, but Sinan Antoon insightfully writes this masterpiece as a manuscript that was found in the an inventory of the general security headquarters located in Central Baghdad. The writings are of the life of a young man and an educated prisoner all in one. His thoughts are so segmented that you see the disjointedness he must feel, which is in every way spawned through fear, heartless acts, and a lack of freedom. He goes back and forth between what happened, what is happening and what is in every bit too horrible to ever imagine happening to any human being.The novel is set in a time where The Leader (Saddam) is in power, a time when life is full of fear and complete inconsistency. Even though suffering and fear are the themes throughout, there is also love, family, education and life to show that all dreams are not lost, even if they are extremely hidden, and held close to oneself. The will to live life is the hardest to snuff, when there is even an ounce of hope and Antoon shows hope in this novel again and again, in a real way that is never false and always just right. Feel the outcry of humanity and read this novel, I'jaam by Sinan Antoon. I am changed, and my outlook is forever different because of this one all too short novel.
Below are some quotes that were just craziness to leave off, wet your tongue on this and get your hands on the book!

" We have been taught to call these frequent events "revolutions," when they are actually scars on our history. A bunch of sadists get sunstroke and declare themselves saviors. Then they begin to torture people and ride them like mules, especially after they discover that this is easier, and perhaps more pleasurable, than fulfilling their promises. Later, another group will come along to dispose the first, brining with them longer whips and chains of a more economic metal. A sadistic circle forever strangling us" (p. 11).

"Hey! What are you doing here? It's forbidden!"
"Forbidden" was the most often-used word in the country, especially among those who enjoyed a bit of power, or imagined that they did" (p. 56).

"The family, as an institution, is stronger than all the armies of the world" (p. 57).

" A simple idea came to me at that moment: isn't freedom the most beautiful feeling in the whole world? Simple, trivial, everyday freedom. I didn't even allow the "No Walking" sign stabbing the grass to spoil my mood" (p.93).
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Triumph June 8 2007
By S. Clunan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Antoon's novel is an incredibly well wrought study of imprisonment, empathy and the experience and power of writing; its construction is very clever indeed, and one puts it down (reluctantly) feeling shaken and bewildered, impelled to act and desirous of leading a life more immediate and brave.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended March 1 2008
By William Cuthbertson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I'jaam's lucid flashbacks and hallucinatory passages written during narrator Furat's Iraqi imprisonment reminds me of similar political or existential novels The Stranger and The Plague. There is even something about I'jaam to recall the less mature Stephen King novella, The Long Walk, and the more artificially constructed, e-less novel from Georges Perec, A Void. But while those books had much looser ties - if any - to a kind of truth, it is not difficult to find the reality that motives the surreality of I'jaam: the Orwellian-like regime of Saddam Hussein. As a novel, I'jaam is beautifully done: believable in its premise; effective as a written artifice; reluctant to use heavy-handedness and anger when its portrayal of soft tragedies, and a lost romance, bring Furat's imprisonment a readier display of human endurance, justification, and regret. This novel, like the era it captures, needs to be elevated into broader view.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Orwell in Baghdad . . . March 30 2010
By Ronald Scheer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It is no coincidence that the central character of this 99-page novella is a university student in Saddam Hussein's Baghdad, who wants to write a thesis on George Orwell's "I984" only to discover that the book has been banned. Though set in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, the action of the novel takes place in a world that is notably Orwellian. Crowds are forcefully gathered to show support for the "Father-Leader" and his ongoing military efforts against "the enemy." The slightest deviations from strictly enforced rules of conduct are harshly dealt with by the police, and freedom of expression is severely limited. Meanwhile, the government spies on its own citizens, the leader's cronies are appointed to high-level positions, and his son acquires his own football team with hand-picked players from all the other teams in the country.

The central character, an aspiring young poet, finds that his efforts to write anything remotely critical of the regime land him in prison, where he is subject to physical and psychological abuse, humiliated, and dehumanized. The book is a manuscript he has left behind, recording his memories, dreams, hallucinations, and experiences as a prisoner. Among his memories is a budding love affair with a young woman. There are a few moments of pleasure seized from that relationship, but his story is that of countless young people whose hopes have been crushed by totalitarian regimes. The "rhapsody" of the title is ironic. The intense feelings portrayed are of anger, frustration, and despair.
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid piece of Prison literature Aug. 25 2013
By BronxRev - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Highly recommend this book as it's a solid piece of work (and only after did I find out that it was one of many in the Arab world's prison lit genre). It switches between the beautiful and the horrid in half a second, and is truly one of the best 1984s ever (though most of it is true and not merely imagination... or at least from the sounds of it).
check it out if you can
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