Shadows & Questions

By Dedi Felman

From Diary of A Bad Year: "I read again last night the fifth chapter of the second part of The Brothers Karamazov, the chapter in which Ivan hands back his ticket of admission to the universe God has created, and found myself sobbing uncontrollaby."

Here at WWB we're working on our end of the year paperwork and reaffirming our mission statement—the translation and publication of the world's best writing and opening doors to cultural exchange. Yet there are days, and today is one of them, when literature seems a pale substitute for the realities of the world and when the ignorance and incomprehension we at WWB try to combat, an almost impervious force.

Today's assassination of Benazir Bhutto caps off a year that began with a "New Way Forward" (otherwise known as "the Surge".) Contrary to the more hopeful of January's early advertisements, 2007 concludes with new beginnings, not to mention resolutions, few and far between. It's the truism that "violence begets violence" whose potency remains—and stings.

Coincidentally, I just received in the mail my long-awaited copy of J.M Coetzee's newest work, Diary of a Bad Year. Never has a title seemed more apt. And what better timing for a questioning of the drive to power and the human propensity to wreak "vengeance upon vengeance"—democracy or no democracy, state or no state.

And what of the "idealism"—a word often used to describe WWB—of an endeavour focused on peacefully bridging cultures? It's hard not to feel one's impotence when the facts, from the 2006 Lebanon War to the latest suicide bombing in Israel, beg to differ. Perhaps all drive to powers, even those aimed at repairing the world's fissures, are as immediately suspect as Coetzee often claims?

Meanwhile, back in Iraq, how many Americans and Iraqis are truly listening to each other and/or have any comprehension of each other's cultures and beliefs? In a fascinating piece in the January 17th New York Review of Books (sorry, no link available yet), Michael Massing writes about a blog sponsored by McClatchy Newspapers entitled "Inside Iraq" which gives an increasingly rare glimpse of what Iraqis are really thinking. Relying on contributions from McClatchy's Iraqi staff, "Inside Iraq" affords a unique opportunity for Iraqis to talk direct to Americans. (American journalists at this point are, due to security considerations, much too isolated from those on whom they would be reporting to realistically offer much insight into the subject.)

Below in full is the entry that Massing quotes as most affecting him. I couldn't agree more. It's a sobering start to a New Year. And though I promise to try and return to my more "idealistic" self in the days to come, this is one "shadow" among many other shadows, especially in a certain slant of light, that won't easily shake.

Rest in Peace, Benazir Bhutto. Citizens of Pakistan, may you find more tranquility in days to come. And may we all have a more peaceful and more mutually understood 2008.

April 11, 2007

Shadows

I awoke to the sound of furious barking. What time is it? Looking at the window I could see that day had not yet dawned—before six in the morning. Why was Suka—our tiny doggie—barking madly at the entrance window??

Apprehensively, I get up and run to look outside. I could see shadows moving about in the garden. What to do?? Do I call out?? Do I pretend not to be at home?? Which is the safest move?? Have ítheyë come for me?? Good God, spare us — My kids!!

Suka continues to bark madly, and I hear a chuckle from outside, íThey have a dog!ë íNot a very large one, judging by its bark!ë English!

I hesitate, then call out in Arabic: íWho is outside?ë Arabic, íWe are here to search the area, house by house. We are the Armyë íPlease wait until we get dressed.ë íVery well.ë

Quickly I call both my daughter and son, íGet dressed! Quick!ë

As I open the door, I see a number of men in uniform, all tall, all indistinguishable in the dark. (Remember we don't have electricity.)

íPlease come in.ë Dressed in all-covering clothes and hijab, I step aside to let them in. They enter. I count ten. The rest remain outside. They enter the living room, which has a large window, and I could distinguish three Americans.

They look around, seeing my huge bookcase, one comments, íYou read a lot Ma'am?ë, íYes, in fact I doë

íWhat's this? Heinlein? Asimov? Grisham?ë He turns to look at me again, this time, with a different expression in his eyes. íDo you have a weapon?ë íYes, of course. It's in that cabinetë

He opens the cabinet and looks closely inside.

íYou play Diablo?! And what's this?! Grand Theft Auto??ë He forgets all about the weapon and turns to us with a wide grin on his face, and astonishment in his eyes. My son asks him, íIs ours the first house you search?ë, íNo, why?ë, íBecause all my friends have these games, why are you so surprised?ë The serviceman looks embarrassed, and turns to inspect the weapon.

They went through every room, every cabinet, closet and drawer silently. After they accomplished their mission, in about thirty minutes, they walked out, gray shadows in the twilight.

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