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The Long Way Back

The Long Way Back

Fuad al-Takarli
Translated by Catherine Cobham
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    The Long Way Back
    Book Description:

    The Long Way Back tells the story of four generations of the same family living in an old house in the Bab al-Shaykh area of Baghdad. Through exquisite layering of the overlapping worlds of the characters, their private conflicts and passions are set against the wider drama of events leading up to the overthrow of prime minister Abd al-Karim Qasim and the initial steps to power of the Baath party in Iraq in 1962-63. The skilful building-up of the characters and their worlds within a brief and clearly determined period of recent history allows for a bold and intelligent portrayal of the ambiguous strengths and weaknesses of Iraqi and wider Arab culture. In addition, the dramatization of the relationships between generations, social groups, and genders is achieved with a mixture of humor, bitter irony, and compassion that identifies it as a great work of Arabic literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-191-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Translatorʹs Note
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Chapter 1
    (pp. 1-12)

    The two of them walked slowly, crossing Kilani Street through the long shadows, and began climbing the unpaved alley. Nuriya spoke to her granddaughter. “Don’t walk so fast, Sana dear.”

    “All right, Bibi.”

    It was shortly before sunset and the street was busy behind them, but a light breeze carried the noise away. They managed to see where they were walking, although the streetlights hadn’t come on yet and the faces of the passers-by were indistinct.

    “This bread’s very hot,” said the little girl.

    “May God always bless us with bread.”

    “God willing, Bibi.”

    “Good girl. That’s the way to...

  5. Chapter 2
    (pp. 13-26)

    They were in the alcove talking, drinking tea, talking some more. From my sick bed I listened to them and guessed they would come to see me here. I would have preferred to go on listening without encountering them face to face, although I knew the sight of her would make me happy, and so I lay there waiting for them to finish their conversation.

    The last red rays of the sun were falling high up on the neighbors’ wall and the sky was still blue. By now we would usually be sleeping up on the terrace. Most years we...

  6. Chapter 3
    (pp. 27-46)

    Aunt Safiya was sitting up in her bed, which was a mattress on the floor. She watched Sana intently through the open windows as she came towards their room treading carefully, carrying a tray of breakfast. The birds were singing on the gaunt branches of the fig tree and the pigeons called intermittently. It was a little alter sunrise and the air was still cool. She wondered what Nuriya had sent her to eat. She had been plagued by hunger for an hour or more. It would be nice if there was cream cheese, apricot jam, warm bread. Sana stood...

  7. Chapter 4
    (pp. 47-76)

    Husayn opened his eyes, and they were assaulted by the bright light flooding through the window, He shut them firmly again, raised his left hand, and pressed it against them, then let his fingers relax and felt a throbbing under his fingertips. He was afraid to open his eyes again and abandoned himself to the darkness inside him. His heart, stomach, eyes, and head were all pounding and churning violently. He’d never felt such a trembling in his body before, although he hadn’t registered when it began. He wasn’t going to open his eyes. He would remain shut up inside...

  8. Chapter 5
    (pp. 77-106)

    The janitor came to turn out the lights in Midhat’s office shortly before he left, then locked the door firmly after him. Midhat went along the dark, empty corridor. There was nobody around. He went out into the wide, bright square. The sun was gentle and the weather warm. He couldn’t see his father. He must have gone home before him. He hadn’t phoned. Or maybe he had, when Midhat was out of the office. He wouldn’t buy newspapers today or books. Mutanabbi Street. A long street when you were hungry. He wasn’t going to buy newspapers and books at...

  9. Chapter 6
    (pp. 107-116)

    Sana broke the white dish with red flowers on it while she was helping her mother wash up after lunch. Her mother veiled at her and clipped her round the head a couple of times. Shocked, Sana put up her hands to protect herself from her mother’s blows.

    “You stupid little girl,” shouted her mother. “Don’t put your hands on your hair when they’re all greasy Anyone would think those plates belonged to your father, the way you smash them all the time!” She clouted her across the shoulders and gave her a push, still shouting. Choking with tears, Sana...

  10. Chapter 7
    (pp. 117-126)

    I went back to my room, shut the door behind me and sat on the bed. Then I stood up and switched on the light. I had eaten well and after the meal drunk tea and talked to my parents. I told them about the last exam, which hadn’t been bad. Two questions had come up on a subject I had reviewed on the bus on the way to the university They considered this a blessing from on high, a good omen.

    I myself had come to the conclusion in the course of the exam that if I carried on...

  11. Chapter 8
    (pp. 127-144)

    Her daughter Sana woke her from the deep sleep that comes around dawn.

    “Mum, Mum,” she whispered in her ear. “The jinn’s in the kitchen washing the dishes. Mum. I’m scared. Please, Mum. The jinn.”

    Sana’s voice came from a bottomless cave. Her mother gathered her bemused senses. “What? What’s wrong?” she asked. “What jinn? What dishes? Why are you awake?”

    “Mum. He’s in the courtyard washing the dishes. Listen!”

    She sat up in bed, straining to hear. The milky light of the sky flooded in through the open door, and from down in the courtyard came an inexplicable, irregular...

  12. Chapter 9
    (pp. 145-168)

    I was half-sitting, half-lying on my bed in the old people’s room, reading a novel. It had seemed interesting at first but I was beginning to think the writer had lost his way when my mother spoke to me. She didn’t like seeing me absorbed in something she couldn’t understand.

    “Munira, my daughter. You should write to your brother, Mustafa. He might talk to his friend about getting you transferred to Baghdad more quickly.”

    She was smoking a long cigarette and chewing her words like gum, an ugly habit I hadn’t managed to break her of. I turned a page...

  13. Chapter 10
    (pp. 169-196)

    He was listening to a conversation between a couple of customers sitting hunched over the table behind him in the Murabbaa café. The speakers’ accents and the strange nature of their discussion had attracted his attention. They had northern accents, and he had guessed as they passed his table that they were probably restaurant employees or drivers. One of them had red eyes and looked distraught. They remained silent for some time, stirring their tea violently, then one of them asked, “What do I do with this bit of paper?” The voice was hoarse and gravelly. Midhat assumed it belonged...

  14. Chapter 11
    (pp. 197-226)

    They walked cautiously along next to the tumbledown wall avoiding the middle of the alley, which was full of mud and puddles. Her sister Suha was in front of her, talking loudly.

    “Today Miss Suhaila gave Aida ten strokes of the ruler. She began to cry like anything. You wouldn’t believe how much she cried and screamed.”

    “Why does she get hit all the time? Is she cheeky?”

    “You’re so stupid, Sana. Do you think you only get hit when you’re cheeky? She can’t do her sums. She’s useless at arithmetic. She’s really stupid.”

    “You’re the stupid one.”

    “Shut up....

  15. Chapter 12
    (pp. 227-246)

    His own scream woke him. He opened his eyes in the gray darkness, jaws trembling and heart thudding. As he sat up in bed, a cold tear ran down from one eye. He was breathing hard and fast. He wiped his damp face and neck. From the start he had known that he was dreaming and told himself that he would soon wake up. And yet, despite this, he had seen her in front of him. He had seen her when he was dreaming, aware that he was dreaming, and had pointed a knife at her. She was submissive and...

  16. Chapter 13
    (pp. 247-268)

    I to was barely six when the visit ended, but after we left the dreary hospital building we wasted a quarter of an hour waiting for a taxi that didn’t come. A gentle breeze blew in the empty street, and the last of the sunlight gave the place a tinge of mystery and unreality. The two little girls and Madiha, swathed in herabaya, stood next to me in silence. It must have been the dust storm and the rain which had made the weather so pleasant. We weren’t used to having spring in the middle of April; in fact,...

  17. Chapter 14
    (pp. 269-288)

    They realized in a vague way, he and the old woman Atiya and the Hajji, that something was over. The rain fell drearily, the clock showed just after three-thirty and the explosions continued uninterrupted, with varying degrees of intensity Earlier they had eaten dry bread dipped in watery gravy, then they took refuge in the little room overlooking the courtyard, making desultory conversation, united by fear and a suspicion that they were approaching the end. Midhat didn’t want to tell them what was going on in his mind and what he was trying to decide, allowing them to feel that...

  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-290)