Blog Tours · Memoir/Biography/Autobiography · Nonfiction · Translations

War and Me (+ Giveaway)

Until about two months ago, neither Faleeha Hassan nor this book were anywhere on my radar. But a representative of the publisher (Amazon Crossing) reached out and asked if I was interested in receiving a copy in exchange for participating in a Blog Tour. I’ve gotten pretty picky about which of these requests I say yes to, because honestly there are just so many books I want to read that I have to ration my time. And I am, for the most part, a reviews-centric blogger, so each book is a significant effort of time to read/write the review. But this one sounded really interesting and I was immediately interested in reading about the life of this female Iraqi poet – the first published female poet from her hometown. So I accepted (see details for the giveaway at the end of this post). And now for the disclaimer: all the thoughts in this review are mine alone, in no way reflective of or influenced by the publisher.

War and Me by Faleeha Hassan

“When the fire of war flares up, even if it suddenly subsides, that does not mean it has been extinguished – not even if it lies dormant for a long time. Instead, it means that any airborne spark can cause it to flare up again.”

Hassan grew up in Najaf, Iraq, as part of a large, but close, working-class family. She was in middle school in 1980 when the Iran-Iraq War began, and she spent the rest of her time in Iraq (until she was forced to flee in 2011 after becoming a target on a militant group’s death list for her writing) under the shadow of constant war. Despite this, all the terror and loss and tragedy that war entails on a day-to-day basis (and the compounding strain of its seemingly never-ending reality), she continued to work towards her educational and career goals, including earning a Masters in Arabic Literature and becoming a published poet. This memoir follows Hassan from her youth through starting her own family and closes with her arrival in the United States after her asylum application was approved.  

Let me start with the major issue I had while reading. I cannot write this review without addressing it, but I also want to get it out of the way and end with the positive, because there is a lot of it. It’s just unfortunate that the big issue was such a pervasive one. I hate to say this, especially because I myself cannot speak/read Arabic well enough to translate it, but I really felt like this was an iffy translation. I know enough of the language to understand that this was likely quite poetic/flowery in the original language, but a lot of it seemed to have been translated too directly for that to carry over, and the phrasing often felt stilted and clumsy in English. And then, despite my wish (often) that the translator would used some more natural and flowing phrasing/language in English, the couple times he did try to add in colloquialisms felt poorly chosen and jarringly out of place (for example, when he used “any Tom, Dick or Harry”). Anyways, there is a chance that part of this was some immature/jumpy writing in the original, as Hassan’s writing background is more short-form. But there are definitely elements of the awkward language that I feel confident come back to the translation. 

I want to make the point here that the content, Hassan’s life, is still absolutely worth reading. It took me some time to get over some of the writing flow issues, but it is worth doing. Obviously, knowing the history that Hassan lived during, it should go without saying that there is *a lot* of trauma and triggering content here, so much (familial) death, violence and injury, missing/loss/unknown fates, domestic (emotional/psychological) abuse, and grief. Hassan does a lovely job presenting the events without holding back on the emotional and life impacts, but also never dramatizing anything. It’s a lot to read, thematically, and it’s impossible to imagine and comprehend living it, but I am grateful for the opportunity to witness through Hassan’s words. There were also many important points made about the politics surrounding everything that has happened to the Iraqi people in the last decades; the way the “normal” people suffered so much as a result of dictators and international (UN) sanctions alike – there was little day-to-day difference in the difficulties for people regardless of the source. An important point for all (western) readers to remember. 

I loved reading about Hassan’s experience and process of writing and publishing her first collection of poetry, and the reception it received (negativity based often on her gender and not the quality of the writing itself, though popular nonetheless). It was so interesting to see how the process worked, and where the strong support for her work was coming from. Relatedly, her family’s and friend’s support for her education across the board was such a highlight. Especially when put in such sharp relief to her experiences with her husband and mother-in-law, when that part of her life unfolds. 

Overall, this was a difficult but worthwhile read. It’s hard to really conceptualize the everydayness of mortar fire in the streets, the way people go to work and children to school through it because that’s just…life. It’s just nonsensical, what people are forced to endure, and thus adjust to enduring. And how Hassan managed to write and publish during it all, to chase her dreams and fight to protect and love her family despite everything, was a beautiful bright spot throughout it all. 

A few pull-quotes:

“I realized then that places retain no magic once they’re stripped of the people associated with them.”

“How can you say you live with your family if you lock yourself and your secrets away from them?”

“Nothing around us grew and multiplied save fear…”

“And if you wished to find some relief, you were forced to search for it. Otherwise, your only refuge was in a dream, which might drag you to destruction as you fell into the snares of thorny reality.”

“Wars occasionally require very convincing, massive lies if we are to escape death, even if only temporarily.”

And now for the GIVEAWAY! The publisher has offered to send a copy of this book to one lucky winner (US + Canada only). If you are interested in entering, make sure you are following my blog…and leave a comment on this post below!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s