Basrayatha: The Story of a City

Muhammad Khudayyir, Author , trans. from the Arabic by William Hutchins. Verso $15.95 (184p) ISBN 978-1-84467-233-2

“Before cities existed, there were stakes and ruins left by foreigners, blind travelers, and prophets,” writes Khudayyir in this densely poetic, ornately written tribute to the southern Iraqi city of Basra. Fluidly translated by Hutchins, this nearly stream–of-consciousness tale takes the reader on a journey through the history and physical topography of Iraq’s second city. “These were the city gates and historic arches that raiders and scowling, armed conquerors had breached,” Khudayyir writes, “carrying within their helmets the plague, syphilis, poisoned amulets, and dark lusts.” His tale unfolds as a series of finely etched vignettes of a city long storied and a seething ever-changing populace. A prosperous port city, Basra, in Khudayyir’s rendering, lives and dies by its rivers—the Tigris and Euphrates. “The river flows to its inevitable mouth, acquiring from its historic flow topographic knowledge of its banks, the land surrounding it, its tributary rivers, and the sea that embraces it,” he writes. Chapters flow like the rivers, touching on neighborhoods, history and colorful characters. Khudayyir concludes with an extended rumination on the condition of the city during the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s. Since the book was originally published in Cairo, Egypt, in 1997, the reader is left wondering what Khudayyir might write today about his beloved city after five years of war and insurgency. (June)

Reviewed on: 03/31/2008
Release date: 04/01/2008
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