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Checkpoints: Literature from Iraq

October 2003

Borders and their crossings are the theme of our first three issues: genre-bending in Iran, partition surrounding North Korea, and in Iraq, the danger zone between inside and outside, as Sherko Fatah writes of smugglers and minefields on the border with Turkey; Muhsin al-Ramli of prisons real and metaphorical at the outset of the Iran-Iraq war; Najem Wali of a soldier in Basra on leave from that conflict in “Waltzing Matilda,” and of the artist’s relation to borders in Homeland as Exile. In an excerpt from his novel Outcast and in his interview with translator Ammiel Alcalay, Iraqi-born Jewish writer Shimon Ballas defies the boundary between Jew and Muslim; while from a historical perspective, Maria Rosa Menocal harkens back to “The Culture of Translation” in medieval Baghdad and Spain, recalling the fluidity of boundaries between “East” and “West.” Poems by Nazik Al-Mala’ika, Saadi Youssef, and Badr Shakir as-Sayab (with a contemporary response by Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish) explore departure and loss as they seek a safe haven in language.

Valentine Puzzle Purse, Anonymous, British or American, 19th century. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. Richard Riddell, 1981.
Arabic script for Samt which translates as silence in English