Papa Sartre

Author: Ali Bader

Publishing House: The American University in Cairo Press

Publication Year: 2009

Genre: Novel

Number of Pages: 192

“Papa Sartre: A Modern Arabic Novel” by Ali Bader is a satirical exploration of the life of Abd al-Rahman, an Iraqi who, after an unsuccessful educational stint in France. He returns to his homeland with the ambition of spearheading an existentialist movement. He idolizes Jean-Paul Sartre and feels a peculiar kinship with the philosopher. Not least because of his own physical resemblance to Sartre (except for the philosopher’s trademark crossed eyes). Adding to this perceived connection is his marriage to Germaine, whom he claims is related to Sartre.

Back in Iraq, Abd al-Rahman finds himself enveloped in a life of luxury. Thanks to his family’s wealth and status. This affords him a lifestyle filled with indulgence in alcohol, debauchery, and nights spent at a well-known nightclub. However, beneath this facade of hedonism lies a deeper existential crisis. His eventual suicide raises questions about its cause: was it a profound philosophical despair or a result of personal turmoil, specifically his friend’s affair with Germaine?

The story is recounted by a biographer, selected by Abd al-Rahman’s supposed friends. He paints a picture of a young man caught in a web of confusion. Like many of his generation, he grapples with finding a sense of purpose and meaning in life. The novel adeptly parodies the pretensions and excesses of pseudo-intellectuals in 1960s Baghdad. Through this narrative, Bader sharply critiques the intellectual and cultural landscape of the era, highlighting the decline of some of Iraq’s affluent and influential families.

Ali Bader, the author, was born in Baghdad in 1964 and has a background in philosophy and French literature. He has also worked as a war correspondent, covering events in the Middle East. Bader is the author of nine novels, several of which have received literary accolades. He currently resides in Amman, Jordan. The novel’s translation is the work of Aida Bamia. A professor of Arabic language and literature at the University of Florida in Gainesville, known for translating “The Inheritance” by Sahar Khalifeh. “Papa Sartre” stands out as a significant contribution to modern Arabic literature, offering a unique and critical perspective on the intellectual milieu of historical Iraq.

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