Originally Published on Speak Fierce!
Written by: Alese Torres
In her memoir, Dreaming of Baghdad, Haifa Zangana revisits her memories of Iraq in the 1950’s, and in doing so weaves a complex and poignant image of her beloved country. The reader follows Zangana as she describes her life, jumping from fond childhood memories to her involvement with activists against Saddam Hussein’s government and on to her torture while detained in several jails. Written with both refreshing and simple language, Zangana does not seem to be storytelling, and instead brings the reader with her as she travels down memory lane; the wording manages to convey the sense that Zangana is as much an observer in her examination of her life as we are.
The book provides a rare and refreshing view of Iraq not merely as a country experienced in headlines, but as a homeland that she and many other activist Iraqis sought to preserve. Unlike another memoir of imprisonment such as Jacobo Timmerman’s Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, where the most overarching part of the story is of Timmerman’s horrific torture in jail, Zangana uses a unique, often random and dreamlike structure to enable the reader to not only share her memories and experiences of torture in detainment, but also to convey images of a much-loved Iraq.
Underscoring the simple and dreamy quality of her words are the striking images and heaviness of her memories themselves. Zangana describes her experiences in a universally understood language—suffering, despair and fondness—so that the reader experiences the struggle with her.
While I did find that the random order of the story made for a confusing and hard to follow narrative, in the end, alongside her language, this presentation of her memories and dreams served to emphasize her experiences.
What makes this worth reading is the unique, ‘other’, point of view. In a time where our focus is often on Iraq and Afghanistan as conflict-riddled zones, it is more important than ever to remember the very human citizens of these countries.
Dreaming of Baghdad will be release by The Feminist Press in September, check out their marvelous catalog of books at www.feministpress.org
Alese Torres is a WCRC summer intern, and a student at Dartmouth College