The Corpse washer by Sinan Antoon
Original title – وحدها شجرة الرمان
Translator – By the writer himself
Source – Personnel copy on Kindle
Sinan Antoon is and Iraqi/American writer born in Baghdad to an Iraqi father and American mother ,he lived and studied English in Iraq .Before moving to the US in 1990 where he gained a Phd in Arabic and Islamic studies from Harvard .He is currently an associate professor at Galltain school in New York .He has written five books and also made a well-known Documentary called About Baghdad.
If death is a postman, then I receive his letters every day. I am the one who opens carefully the bloodied and torn envelopes. I am the one who washes them, who removes the stamps of death and dries and perfumes them, mumbling what I don’t entirely believe in. Then I wrap them carefully in white so they may reach their final reader— the grave.
Very poetic thoughts at times as they look after the cities dead .
Well this was the one book on this years IFFP I didn’t see being there ,but that said one I was pleased to see on the list as however curates the Yale imprint ” THE MARGELLOS WORLD REPUBLIC OF LETTERS” has rather good taste from the other two books I have read from the list Diary and Blindly .So to the book the corpse washer is set in the Shi’ite community and follows Jawad who at the beginning of the book is working with his father as a corpse washer following the Islamic practice of Ghusl ,were a body needs to be washed in the correct water and shroud in the Kafan ,as soon after some one dies .Now young Jawad has his own dreams he wants to become an artist so he leaves his father and goes to follow his dream of art becoming a sculpture .But as he is studying and then the gulf war and Saddam leadership becomes more manic ,his father dies ,his mother becomes very ill and the family rack up cost in her care so Jawad life goes full circle and in the middle of the violence yet again becomes a corpse washer telling us the horrors of conflict as he washes and shrouds the bodies of the dead .As war brings Jawad so many more stories and bodies to clean and shroud .
Like all children I was very curious and would pester Father with questions about his work, but he said he’d tell me all about it later when the time was right. I would accompany him when I was old enough. “It’s too early, focus on school.” Ammoury had started helping Father when he was fifteen and started to wash at eighteen, but my father never allowed me to go inside his workplace. He wanted to keep work and home separate. When I used to ask Ammoury about work, he never gave me satisfying answers; these were matters for grown-ups and I was still a child.
I loved visiting my father factory as a kid didn’t we all do this ?
Now I found this maybe the most powerful book I have read so far from the list and knowing the IFFP it will be a good contender for a winner Jawad is a man caught in the vicious circle of failed dreams he glimpse another life ,he wants more than his father but in the end maybe sees what his father didn’t in their job when he returns to it .When the story is washed clean it is a universally themed story of father and sons ,foiled ambition ,family ,war and losing a dream .A modern tragedy maybe ,War story maybe ,but for me most of all one mans struggle Jawad he could be compared to characters from a dickens novel or even an older version Billy Casper where Jawad’s art is like Billy kestrel and escape a dream of a better life .