Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review

Book Review: The Fly On The Rose (الذبابة على الوردة) by Khodeir Meirry: Khodeir Meirry's autobiographical account of his experience as an "Enemy of The State" in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's reign, is a novel that is simultaneously harrowing and sublime. This is a novel written by someone who has literally been to hell and back; someone who has experienced the true meaning of human evil and lived to tell the tale. And the tale isn't pretty. Meirry, a prose stylist and a masterful storyteller, takes us through his journey, which begins with being a Medical School student who aspires to be a writer; to being considered a "criminal" and sent to a penal colony where he is tortured, almost to death, for refusing to admit his guilt of a crime that is never defined; to being sent to an insane asylum as a schizophrenic with no hope of a cure.

Throughout the novel, the reader senses Meirry's pain and anguish at the corruption, stupidity, ego, and lawlessness of Saddam Hussein's regime, where intellectuals are persecuted for no reason other than their desire to think, analyze and speak what they deem the truth; where soulless individuals are treated like gods, and humble people are treated like animals; where sanity is a precious commodity and insanity the norm. Meirry's account of his struggle to hold on to his sanity in the face of unspeakable horrors is touching, fierce and unflinching. But, strangely enough, never sentimental; mainly because Meirry focuses on what it means to be sane and strong; what it takes to break a man and transform him into nothing but a mumbling wreck; and what it truly means to be free. He doesn't dwell on the ugly details of torture and humiliation (although he doesn't shy away from them, either), instead focusing almost solely on his own psyche and how it responds to the horrors it experiences. In the end, according to Meirry, what saved him was a mixture of faith, resilience, sheer luck, and his belief in the power of art and imagination, as, during his incarceration, he devoured book after book, in an attempt to escape the harrowing reality that surrounded him.

With this novel, Meirry confirms his status as a superb storyteller, whose command of language, pacing and character is a marvel to behold. He is also the only Arab writer I've come across who's truly capable of portraying, with beauty and restraint, and convincingly, characters whose minds are coming undone. A masterpiece that should be discussed and analyzed for years to come.

* Available from Al-Hadara Publishing.

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