“Tomorrow the War Will Have a Picnic” is a poem written by an Iraqi author named Abdul Razaq Al-Rubaiee on the eve of the American invasion in 2003. It and other poems written by Iraqi poets are collected in the anthology Flowers of Flame: Unheard Voices of Iraq (2008). Flowers of Flame came to my attention when a scholar proposed to speak about it for a panel titled Global Perspectives on the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that I am trying to set up for the American Comparative Literature Association conference next March in Seattle. Alas, as I write I don’t have enough papers to meet the ACLA’s requirement of six to make the panel a go. But the entries I have received have already done much of what I hoped to accomplish by alerting me to the work of non-American authors who have written stories, poetry, and plays about Iraq and Afghanistan. Flowers of Flame is one example, and below are a few more:
Pakistani-British novelist Nadeem Aslam’s The Blind Man’s Garden (2013), tells the story of two brothers who enter Afghanistan from Pakistan not to fight Americans, but to help wounded Afghans. Aslam’s earlier novel The Wasted Vigil (2008) is also set in Afghanistan. An interview with Aslam at Bookslut is especially not to be missed for many reasons–I’ll quote my favorite part, in which Aslam describes how he taught himself to be a writer:
So over the course of the next 10 or 11 years I read everything. I would go to person A and say, “Tell me, who’s a great writer?” William Faulkner. So I read everything by William Faulkner. I would begin with the first novel and end up with the last novel. I would go to person B and say, ‘Who’s a great writer?’ Thomas Hardy. I read everything by Thomas Hardy, sequentially. Who’s a great writer? D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, Dostoevsky.
And then I wanted to know, how much thought is allowed in one paragraph? How many images are allowed per page? What is a comma? And so I copied out the whole of Moby-Dick by hand. I copied out the whole of As I Lay Dying by Faulkner by hand. I copied out Lolita. I copied out Beloved. I copied out The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, Gabriel García Márquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch….
Christine Evans is an Australian-born playwright who now lives in America. Her multi-media play You Are Dead. You Are Here (2013, with more productions coming in 2015) portrays a relationship between a male American soldier and a young female Iraqi blogger. An earlier play called Slow Falling Bird (2003) features an Afghan girl living in limbo in an Australian immigrant detention center. Evans’ other plays–Trojan Barbie (2009) and Weightless (2007)–don’t invoke Iraq and Afghanistan directly, but instead comment obliquely on modern life as it has been shaped by a decade of war. Trojan Barbie, by-the-by, draws inspiration from Euripides’ The Trojan Women to portray the plight of women in the midst of a war, conflict, and violence-saturated historical epoch. In the latest PMLA, a seriously scholarly journal published by the Modern Language Association, Ellen McLaughlin describes her own stage adaptation of Sophocles’ Ajax called Ajax in Iraq (2009). Evans’ and McLaughlin’s works add two more data points to the now indisputable pile of evidence proving that classic Greek literature has been the go-to sourcepool for contemporary war writers.
I’ve appealed to ACLA for an exception-to-policy and will soon find out if my panel will occur or not. I hope so, but even if it doesn’t, many thanks to the scholars who brought Flowers of Flame, The Blind Man’s Garden, and You Are Dead. You Are Here to our attention. I look forward to reading both the original works and the critical commentary.
Flowers of Flame: Unheard Voices of Iraq. Edited by Sadek Mohammed, Soheil Najm, Haier Al-Kabi, and Don Veach. Michigan State University Press, 2008.
Nadeen Aslam. The Blind Man’s Garden. Knopf, 2013.
Christine Evans. You Are Dead. You Are Here. Indie Theater Now, 2013.