In addition, the literature of a country and people is a window onto the soul of their language. The way language is used is a key clue to the culture behind it – and I need as many clues as I can get! A great example is the modern Iraqi literary scene. Iraq is a country that has been through the ringer, and if you seek to translate their work, you’d better have an idea of how the population sees things. Plus, because of Iraq’s eventful century you can actually see their literature changing as the political reality changes.
Country of Many Faces
Iraq has been engaged in violent and constant change for almost a hundred years now, though often with lengthy periods of ‘calm’. In the early-to-mid 20th century Iraq was a kingdom, In the late 1950s a revolution formed a republic, which lasted until the military coup of 1968 that put the Ba’th party and Hussein into power. From 1991 to 2003 the country was largely cut off from the rest of the world as international powers sought to pressure Hussein economically, and then, of course, the invasion and the occupation that has existed ever since.
One result of this tumultuous history is the division of Iraqi literature between “outsiders,” made up of intellectuals and artists who fled or were forced to leave under the Ba’th dictatorship and the “insiders” who remained. Their perspectives are understandably different, and the “Insiders” often reject the exiles’ point of view as no longer truly representing Iraqi life and attitudes.
One good result of the Iraq War is the new freedom afforded to writers. Under the Ba’th party, a great deal of artistic expression was suppressed as being unpatriotic or dangerous. Much of the literature created in the last decade or so of Hussein’s rule was blandly nationalistic and militaristic, clearly demonstrating nothing more than the government’s wish to control the conversation.
Since the fall of the Ba’th party, literature has managed to regain some of its footing and there has been an attempt to return to the “social realism” movement that prevailed in Iraq in the 1960s and 1970s, before the government cracked down.
Even more interesting is the departures from these older movements as war and endless chaos has inspired newer writers to be less formal and more avant-garde. Today, Iraqi literature is among some of the most innovative and interesting in the world.