What have you left behind ? by Bushra AL-Maqtari

 

What Have You Left behind ? by Bushra AL-Maqtari

Yemeni Non-fiction

Original title –

Translator Sawad Hussain

Source – Review copy

I got sent this from the folks at Fitzcarraldo a press I have loved since they started there is rarely a press that you have never read a book you didn’t like in fact more than that their books have been among my favourite reads of each year for the last few years . So when I got this and on the back cover I saw the words that it was inspired by her reading of Svetlana Alexievich. Bushra Al Maqtari is a novelist and writer she first came to the fore in 2012 with her novel behind the sun and then her writing has become more nonfiction. This book lifted the lid on the personal effect of the long-running and under-report civil war in Yemen.

My brother is still tormented, he can’t sleep, he can’t forget. He’s preoccupied with finding treatment for his injured son. I carry my brother’s sorrows on my back, I enter the house and the memories come rushing back.

I remember my brother’s children and his wife, their laughter, the noise they would make, our beautiful life together. Damn the Coalition and whoever came with them to our country, damn every side that has murdered Yemeni people. They’re all just that – murderers. Who will bring back Malak, Malakat, Mohammed and Asma to my brother? Who? Tell me who? Who?

No one. No one cares about what happened to us.

Ahmad Abdel Hameed Sayf

At 5.40 p.m. on Thursday, 26 January 2017, the Arab Coalition aeroplanes targeted Ahmad’s brother’s house, Fahmi Abdel Hameed Sayf in al-Qutay in the governorate of al-Hu-daydab. His brother’s wife Asma Abdel Qader Yassin Sharaf (30 years old) was killed, and her children: Mohammed Fahmi

The last paragraph and what happened to Ahmad and his family in the opening narrative.

In her Nobel-winning speech, Svetlana Alexievich described how Flaubert called himself a Human Pen from his writing but Alexievich described herself as a human ear. That is what we have here with Busrha’s narratives they are a polyphonic collection of voices of the outfacing of the v=civin=il war a collection of people killed by the war. The book opens with Ahmed’s account of a bomb landing on his brother’s house meaning the loss of his sister-in-law his niece and his nephews. This is how the book is formed each chapter an account and each account ends with when the attack or killing happened where and who died. under the mango tree AL Ahamad says how he dreams of those he has lost all the time. Mothers lose their children as they are targeted and killed by Militia How the loss of children changes mothers, This is a chorus of loss and the ripple effect of this the immediate damage and loss but also the long-term trauma and loss to the society.

I lived in a country where dying was taught to us from childhood. We were taught death. We were told that human beings exist in order to give everything they have, to burn out, to sacrifice themselves. We were taught to love people with weapons. Had I grown up in a different country, I couldn’t have traveled this path. Evil is cruel, you have to be inoculated against it. We grew up among executioners and victims. Even if our parents lived in fear and didn’t tell us everything – and more often than not they told us nothing – the very air of our life was poisoned. Evil kept a watchful eye on us. Svetlana Alexievich

I feel this maybe capture so well what Bushra Al-Maqtari is trying to capture in this book the horror of war is known but the personal effect isn’t the families or those we loved we have lost adds to a  more powerful narrative voice a chorus of loss. You can see the nod to a book like Chernobyl the way you grab the attention of the reader is a polyphonic collection of experiences a patchwork of the war the gaps are those doing the killing these are this effect but the killer of the forgotten war. What we see is how it we deal with the human cost of war and the loss of the fabric of society. I was reminded of how the late great Dasa Drndric had described to me that the Italian version of her book had a rip out section of the book list of list Jews oink the war in Italy she’d pass it round and have people rip out names of the knew as the did the book fell apart like society itself with the loss of all these lives and voices.  This is their civil war is tearing their world apart the how=rror and cost of the war in Yemen haven’t been reported enough it has taken a strong voice like Bushra to be an activist and voice for this war and its effect. Have you a favourite book about war that uses first hand accounts?

Winstons score – +A another home run for Fitzcarraldo

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Nov 24, 2022 @ 22:01:30

    Hi Stu, I’ve bought a copy of this.
    Thanks for an enticing review.
    I hope the new job is going well?

    Reply

  2. Trackback: That was the month that was November 22 | Winstonsdad's Blog

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