cover image Naphtalene: A Novel of Baghdad

Naphtalene: A Novel of Baghdad

Alia Mamdouh, , trans. by Peter Theroux; FOREWORD BY HLNE CIXOUS; AFTERWORD BY F. A. HAIDAR. . Feminist Press, $23.95 (214pp) ISBN 978-1-55861-492-5

Originally published in Arabic in 1986, this first U.S. publication by an award-winning Iraqi author living in Paris explores 1950s Baghdad through the eyes of Huda, a fiery and precocious nine-year-old girl. In the teeming streets and dirty alleyways of her neighborhood, Huda is loud and plays rough; she tells her not-so-secret crush, Mahmoud, that she "can be like a boy." At home, however, she lives in a world of women: her sickly mother, her grandmother and her aunts. Over the next few years, Huda's father abandons them, her mother dies and Huda herself reaches puberty and must wear the dreaded abaya , or black cloak, in public. Also imminent is the end of the monarchy and the coming revolution. Mamdouh's prose is at once lush and refreshingly earthy—the women, in particular, are free with their frank assessments and insults. Mamdouh's tendency to switch between first- and second-person narration (rendering Huda as both "I" and "you") can be disconcerting, and the cast of characters is confusingly large. But she anchors her tale with a spirited and highly sympathetic narrator coming of age in a Baghdad long gone. (July)