domingo, 15 de julio de 2018

Muhsin Al-Ramli / Emirates Literature Festival

A Weapon of Peace in Times of War
The power of reading was the most useful weapon for Muhsin Al-Ramli, an Iraqi writer and translator. HSS students had the pleasure of listening to his life story, which corresponded with the #UAEReads campaign, in the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on March 8. Al-Ramli’s dream was to be a successful writer, and that dream became stronger throughout his time as a soldier. His anecdotal method in telling his story left the students inspired to read and realize their dreams.
By: Dhabia Khalfan Harib
When he was a soldier, Muhsin Al-Ramli never killed anyone because his strongest weapon was reading.
“Yes, reading is destructive,” Al-Ramli said in a speech at The Emirates Airlines Literature Festival. “It destroys all the misconceptions held by an individual and thus creates a more wholesome being.”
Al-Ramli is an Iraqi writer who fought in the Gulf War and has been living in Spain for the past 23 years. He is best known for the complete translation of Don Quixote from Spanish to Arabic. ZU students from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences had the pleasure of attending Al-Ramli’s speech among the three different sessions on March 8.
Al-Ramli’s speech was the third and final talk attended by the HSS students at the literature festival. It was called “Literary Experience in the Diaspora” and was in line with the #UAEReads campaign.
As stated in the title of the talk, Al-Ramli used an anecdotal method to relay his experiences about the places reading has taken him.
He told a story about how some people in his own community perceived reading to be destructive as one person in their community was influenced by so called “spell books”. That is why they had this negative association with reading.
In times of war Al-Ramli would read constantly. Whenever they had to go into bunkers, he would make sure he has books around him as it provided him with a sense of tranquillity.
His comrades would make fun of him, especially when they were looting and Al-Ramli passed up on the gold and went straight to the libraries to take as many books as possible.
Their disregard took many forms. When Al-Ramli would say he would become a famous writer in the West, they sniggered.
Through war, books were a source of peace for him. He had to move to Jordan for reasons he did not state, and then he came back to Iraq. In both places, he had to work tedious manual jobs. This further encouraged him to follow his dream of becoming a writer.
He applied to three universities in the West, two of which rejected him and the third barely let him in. Due to this, his life changed forever. He immersed himself in literature, learnt Spanish and gave the world an Arabic Don Quixote that does not miss any of the nuances of the original.
Al-Ramli admitted that he never killed anyone in his time as a soldier and that his strongest weapon was reading. It opened his mind to a new world of possibilities and lead him from working as a gardener in Iraq to becoming a professor in Spain and one of the most important Arab figures in the literature scene.
The students and other attendees were very receptive to his talk as the regular laughs and applause would briefly stop Al-Ramli’s telling of his story.
“Al-Ramli’s talk was by far the best today not only because of the hardships he faced but because he connected with the audience and inspired me to read more,” one student said.

martes, 10 de julio de 2018

Marc Nash. About Mushin Al-Ramli's "The President's Gardens"

Marc Nash
Mushin Al-Ramli's "The President's Gardens"

The President’s Gardens. View by alexreadsboooks


The President’s Gardens 

by Muhsin Al-Ramli

by alexreadsboooks
On the morning of the third day of Ramadan, a village in Iraq wakes to find the heads of nine of its men stacked in banana crates by the bus stop. One of them, known to his friends as Ibrahim the Fated, is one of the most wanted men in Iraq. From the village of his birth through three wars and the lives of his best friends, The President’s Gardens tells the story of how Ibrahim earned the enmity of so many people, and of what lies buried in the Presiden’s Gardens, unknown to the people of Iraq.
I was really excited when I found this book at the book shop a few months ago, because I haven’t read anything by an Iraqi author before and so I jumped at the chance of buying it. It’s not a decision I regret.
The President’s Garden is beautifully written and I was drawn in as soon as I opened it. Set in a country that as an outsider I connect more with news of war and terrorism than with beauty, it manages to convey an image of Iraq that does find the beauty, even in a situation as terrible as the one the country is still in.
The great thing about the narration is that while it takes a winding path from the discovery of the heads through the histories of Ibrahim and his two best friends, Abdullah Kafka and Tariq the Befuddled, back to the events at the beginning of the novel, it never seems pointless or dull. The story is told so vividly and interesting that I couldn’t put the book down until I had finished it.
I also really liked the characters,  they were complex and interesting, and while most of them were male, I really liked the women as well. Especially Ibrahim’s daughter Qisma was very compelling in her desire to live a better life than the one she knew from the village.
But most importantly, it struck me how seldom we get to hear about the victims of the war in Iraq compared to the amount of stories we get to hear about the Western side of it. And because of that I think this book is actually really important, because while it’s only one novel, there is not a single American in it, and for those who still struggle with realising that the people in Iraq are just as human as we are in the West, I think it would help them to understand things on the other side of the conflict a little better.
The President’s Gardens is an epic novel about Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, following the lives of three friends from the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War to the aftermath of the American invasion.
Abdullah loses twenty years to Iranian captivity before returning to learn the terrible truth of his birth. Tariq, the son of the local Sheik, avoids the army, and becomes a man of power and influence, able to help his friends but always careful to keep his own interests closest to his heart. Ibrahim loses a foot in the first Gulf War and his wife to cancer before taking on a menial job in the gardens of one of the president’s many palaces – a job whose responsibilities will escalate beyond his wildest imaginings.
The multiple, multi-generational stories woven together in The President’s Gardens are brought to life by a vivid and memorable cast of characters, and may remind the reader of The Kite-Runner, The Yellow Birds and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Epic in scope, moving, philosophical and true, it packs an ocean of wisdom in its 400 pages, and has much to impart about war and oppression, love and marriage, fathers and daughters, and what it means to live under a murderous, totalitarian regime.

lunes, 9 de julio de 2018

Muhsin Al-Ramli: why I wrote THE PRESIDENT'S GARDENS

Muhsin Al-Ramli: why I wrote

Muhsin Al-Ramli describes the terrible events that inspired, and the remarkable reception of, The President's Gardens
"I began writing The President’s Gardens in 2006 after receiving the news of the murder of nine of my relatives, who were fasting on the third day of Ramadan. The people of the village found only their heads in banana crates, along with their identity cards. I dedicated the novel to their souls. It was a huge shock to me. It horrified me, and, to start with, the novel was a reaction to this event undertaken without planning or a clear vision. So I put it aside in the hope of achieving an old ambition of writing a novel encompassing what ordinary people have suffered through the violent tragedies of Iraq in its modern history, a novel like The Bridge over the Drina by the Yugoslav novelist Ivo Andrić, which relates the history of his country over generations and in which the bridge is the focal point unifying the different events and periods of the book.
Another motivation was that when I have taken part in cultural activities and events in many countries, I have seen the difficulty people have in understanding the complexity of the Iraqi situation, and I have felt extremely sad and angry when the world press reports Iraqi victims as though they were merely numbers. I began to gather information systematically. I travelled to Syria to meet my brother and his son there to ask them for more details. I did not start writing again until the end of 2008, after reading an old, short news story about someone whose work was to bury anonymous executed people in Iraq and who secretly kept something belonging to them, whether it was a card, a bill, a watch or a ring. He would record some of their personal characteristics and information about where they were buried. After the fall of the regime, he helped many families to find the remains of corpses of their lost ones.
It took about four years to write, but the work was not continuous. I would write and then stop to write other things, then return to the novel, search for more information and go back to it, asking advice from friends, and so on. It was written in four places: I began in Madrid and carried on in Granada and Iraq where I went for a short time and did more research. I finished the first draft in Asturias, in northern Spain. After that, I did various revisions in Madrid, so it was begun and finished there, where I live.
The novel has been received far better than I expected. The critical views expressed reassured me that it was technically solid. Readers' views, which are the most important, made me feel that this novel had conveyed the message I intended. I received calls and letters from readers who follow my writings, who said that “this is the novel we have been waiting for you to write”. Others said: “We now understand what was going on in Iraq and the reasons for what is happening now.” Some confessed that their view had completely changed – they had previously been sympathetic towards the ousted dictator of Iraq and supported him against his enemies. Some on social networks wrote about their hope that rulers of the people they rule would read it, so that the whirlpool of violence in this Arab world of ours would become calmer. And there was someone from Iraq thanking me because I had managed to express their pain."
Muhsin Al-Ramli is an Iraqi writer, poet, academic and translator, born in the village of Sudara in northern Iraq in 1967. He has lived in Madrid since 1995. The President's Gardens was longlisted for the IPAF, known as the "Arabic Booker", in 2013.

Review/ The President's Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli

 The President's Gardens 
by Muhsin Al-Ramli

Marialyce W, Reviewer
There is some beautiful highly effective writing in this fictitious tale of three friends living in a small village in Iraq. One of the friends will eventually spend twenty years in captivity as a POW in Iran, the other a scholar, while the third becomes the employee of a man who is ruthless ruler. They all come from a small village in Iraq and the book covers the time of the Iraq/Iran war as well as the Gulf War. The boys' lives as they grow into men contain secrets and through Al-Ramli's writing we gather an intimate portrait of their lives and the horrors that they faced.            
It is not by any long shot, although never mentioned, that the blood thirsty leader described in this novel was Saddam Hussein and as the story continues we learn the horrors of what existed within the President's Gardens. Beautiful as they were to look at, they contained abominations that were demonic and horrific.
This book is shocking and horrific starting in the first scene where five heads are delivered to the village and from there we learn the story of the boys growing into men as we look into the past. It is a look inside a country written by an Iraqi man. It gave the reader another perspective other than that of the American view and the world press. This author did a fantastic job of telling a story of three boys living in a primitive village and what the wars and their upheaval meant to them. Often gruesome as it is, it allows the reader to understand what the culture and mind set was as Iraq was lead by a leader who was as vile as he was cunning. We were given an intimate portrait of friends, their lives, and the utter turmoil of what it was like growing up in set afire. 

Thank you to Muhsin Al-Ramli, Quercus MacLehose Press, and NetGalley for a copy of this most moving story.