In today’s fast-paced world where everyone seems to be more intertwined than ever, and where news spreads like fire, making it what most call a global village, it is implausible that one feels cloistered from the world or sheltered from a vital piece of information. The public neither feels the urge to venture back and forth in search of truth nor the necessity to dissect crucial matters themselves, thus remaining oblivious of the harsh realities and unacquainted with the grief-stricken people that require their utmost attention. Most of us, including those residing in one of the bustling cities of the world, with all the sources of information open to us, still find that the entire truth escapes us. The information disseminated to the ordinary person is either amended or adjusted to suit the political agendas of various world powers.
By virtue of the scarcity of reliability empathetic yet forceful authors, the likes of Sinan Antoon come into play: not only to provide the much-needed transparency amidst a political smokescreen, but to give names to the numbers that we read every day in the media. Our unwillingness to take the sufferer’s emotions, dreadful experiences and devastating narratives into account; and point out the mental damage that many have encountered but omitted in international reports, creates a void that literature astutely bridges.
Literature as the perfect blend of ethos, pathos, and the crude reality of life provides the author the felicitous platform to voice the unspeakable truth and grant the audience the opportunity to view the situation from the perspective of the people who suffered greatly at the hands of the circumstances. The Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon is no exception. Being a Baghdad-born American, Antoon serves as the merited author to demonstrate Iraq’s subjugation to those abroad while keeping it close to home.
Apart from highlighting the literal destruction of Iraq’s cultural and historical hub, Antoon also analyzes the lives of the locals on a micro-level
Antoon leaves no stones unturned when shedding light on the history of his beloved country Iraq. He describes it to be culturally embellished with a long and rich heritage, exquisite old buildings, and exceptional works of art. On the one hand, Antoon uncovers a bona fide image of this most rich civilization and provides the reader the chance to have a true gist of Iraqi culture and ward off cultural alienation. At the same time, seizing an opportunity to describe the destruction his country faced at the hands of the natives, decoits, and invaders, in short, the national calamities on the other. The likes of which are usually camouflaged in the newspaper’s ink to prevent the cognizance of world affairs. He explores the amount of destruction it witnessed, ranging from the military coup of 1968 to the ruthless war from 1980 to 1988, from the Iran-Iraq tussle to the war on terror, which proved to be a death blow to his nation and its already shattered citizens. Antoon reveals how the once-bustling city of Baghdad, the heart of Iraq, was reduced to no more than a shambles. He depicts the repressions and violence this city encountered. As he puts it, “Iraq is a million broken mirrors scattered across a desert crushed by Rome’s hooves. Blind barbarians must look for the pieces and wipe the blood off them without being devoured by the wolves, which howl and growl on both sides”(Antoon, 2013, p. 33).
He reveals how his city, earlier well-known for its noteworthy poets and national heritage, becomes a graveyard for its citizens; how, from being the benevolent Baghdad, the town soon transitioned into a place that crumpled under the weight of vast piles of corpses. A place once filled with laughter now echoed with howls and groans. Baghdad, which used to be the intellectual centre for the Muslim world, sank in the blood of the innocent and underwent damage beyond repair – facts that foreign news agencies always remain hesitant to state in all their horror. The narrative provided by Antoon not only seems outmatched in its ability to stir the reader’s mind to question the barbaric acts of the Americans, but also to offer space to the wails of the much-deprived Iraqis, which have for decades remained as muted vestiges in the pages of history.
Apart from highlighting the literal destruction of Iraq’s cultural and historical hub, Antoon also analyzes the lives of the locals on a micro-level: the Iraqis who, despite having no say in decision-making, had to pay the most incredible price. And this was a price paid not merely with their capital or goods, but in terms of their ambitions, future, and lives of their beloved, something that is beyond the scope of newspapers to comprehend or conjecture. The novel penned by Antoon impeccably reveals the truth about what is referred to as “collateral damage” in most international conferences. Although they have committed no crimes, the people become the target of prejudice, self-interest, and worst-case scenario missiles. The novel elucidates and enlightens the audience time and again that those committing criminal acts and making decisions tend to sit back in their mansions or bulletproof bunkers. In contrast, the masses are left to witness chaos and massacres. His work allows the audience to apprehend the hardcore facts without the usual tampering of evidence and providing them the opportunity to get into the shoes of the Iraqis and feel the misery they underwent. Such in-depth analysis bolstered by legitimate facts enables the audience to form their own opinion of the War on Terror, free from American influence and propaganda.
Antoon brilliantly reflects the harsh realities and scenes of inhumanity and heartlessness that the helpless Iraqis patiently endured.
The cautious translation ensures that the adversities and anguish experienced by the Iraqis are not lost in translation
“Whenever I think that humans have stooped to the lowest point, I discover that they can stoop even lower. The number of corpses thrown in garbage dumps and being fished out of the river has doubled in recent months.” He continues; “even the dead are not safe anymore. They are booby-trapping corpses now” (Antoon, 2014, p. 116).
Many people like Jawad, the protagonist of the story, had to give up their passions and goals – and accept the bitter reality that the world had lost its last bit of humanity and that no one would intervene for their aid. As per Antoon, natives of Iraq, being wired to thrive on dysfunction, were worse off than inmates in the most dreadful prisons across the world. Hence, he compels the audience to not only ponder upon American audacity – who, despite proclaiming themselves as the flag-bearers of human rights, did not hesitate to display their insensitivity and malice towards the people of Iraq – but also scrutinize the way America tried to tuck away its series of brutalities from the public sight.
Antoon has used such an emotional yet appealing tone that it leaves a lasting impact on the reader. He makes meticulous use of symbolism and imagery to engage his audience further:
“Look at it now. Then you have all this garbage, dust, barbed wires and tanks […] this is not the Baghdad I’d imagined” (Antoon, 2014, p. 96).
Keeping his unwavering patriotism intact, Antoon retains the Arabic cultural lens even when translating his novel in English. The cautious translation ensures that the adversities and anguish experienced by the Iraqis are not lost in translation and are safely preserved for generations to hear and examine.
Antoon’s efforts to enable people to have a sound understanding of Iraq’s adversities and misfortune are unparalleled. The Corpse Washer not only investigates the actual motives of the US in invading Iraq, but also awakens in the audience a sense of responsibility and accountability. Antoon’s arguments are so compelling and persuasive that they not only motivate the audience to do everything in their capacity to put an end to the annihilation of humanity, but enable them to actually imagine themselves in the position of the sufferers. For tomorrow, it could well be their homeland thus invaded, and their beloved lying in heaps as corpses.
Masterpieces like Antoon’s novels clear the misinterpretations and illusions and depit these calamities from the eyes of the actual victim, not the foreign spectator.