Shalash the Iraqi
Shalash the Iraqi
The second U.S. invasion of Iraq began in the spring of 2003. By the autumn of 2005, though the Saddam Hussein regime had reached its bloody end, ordinary Iraqis were seeing little improvement in their daily lives. Their country was ‘free’, but to many it seemed free mainly to become a mire of sectarian violence, corruption, confusion, and fear.
In the midst of this turmoil, a hero arose – or, rather, a jester, which in wartime might amount to the same thing. In a country where electricity was only intermittently available, a series of blog posts began to appear at a soon-to-be-defunct website and took Baghdad by storm. Individual entries were printed out and passed around for months, until the pages were nearly shredded. Where neither computers nor printers were available, the posts were retold aloud, then passed along at second- and third-hand.
What could inspire such devotion? Signed ‘Shalash the Iraqi’, the posts proved to be nothing less than portions of a madcap serial novel thumbing its nose at Iraq’s new normal. Employing a variety of genres and styles – from drunken monologues to prayers, from poetry to dirty jokes, from fairy tales and folk stories to brutal realism – the fictional Shalash sheds light on as well as mocks every possible aspect of Iraq’s political, religious, cultural, and social situation.
Populated by a cast of imagined con artists, holy fools, drag queens, and partisans – as well as some very factual politicians, priests, and generals – this is a novel whose only peers are Lazarillo de Tormes, Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy, and Catch-22. Never written to be published, all but lost save for those disintegrating printouts treasured by its devotees, Shalash the Iraqi is here presented in its first authorised translation, with the blessing and commentary of ‘Shalash’ himself.