May 22, 2024

“The President’s Gardens” land as a mass burial ground

The President’s Gardens

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“The President’s Gardens,” is a novel deserving of attention for its distinctive elements, skillfully crafted by the author, creating a narrative that resists easy interpretation or categorization.

The novel, authored by the Iraqi writer Muhsin Al-Ramli, was released in Arabic by Dar Al-Mada for Publishing. The English version, titled “The President’s Gardens,” was published by MacLehose Press.

1959 is where it all begins

In the novel, the protagonists of the story are born in the year 1959: Tariq bin Zaher (Tariq the Befuddled), the mosque imam; Abdullah bin Shiq al-Ard (Abdullah Kafka), who later becomes Ibn Saleh, and Ibrahim bin Suhail al-Damascene (Ibrahim the Fated), All of them were born in 1959.

Looking at this year, we find that it witnessed not only multiple coup attempts against the regime in Iraq but also more than 5 massacres—a staggering number indeed. All of these massacres occurring in a single year! And it’s the same year in which the protagonists of Al-Ramli’s novel were born. Surely, this is no coincidence.

What follows afterward will make us realize that this year didn’t just witness the birth of the novel’s characters, but also marked the beginning of the formation of the features and contours of this nation, which began to change since the 1950s. The society started to deteriorate gradually, torn apart by coups, sectarian strife, internal and external wars. The year’s connection to the birth of the characters makes us feel that they are all offspring of that massacre.

The People Confronting the Gardens

The novel dismantles this divisive and bloody line between power and the people. It doesn’t place the people in confrontation with authority because the concept of authority in the novel, if stripped down and generalized, would serve as a concept for any authority.

Within the novel, people are portrayed as being subdued, born into the heart of the massacre that seems to be their world. They are controlled by individuals who may send them to wars they have no part in and die in them. The character of the controlling president in the novel appears nebulous and ambiguous, as if you cannot clearly see who is controlling you.

This abstraction is strongly evident in the description given by the author to his characters as “Sons of Shiq Al-Ard,” meaning that these characters are not just the sons of Iraq or any specific nation, but they are the sons of the earth itself, all of the earth. The term “Shiq” (cleaving) implies that it’s as if the earth has split open to bring them forth into life.

In his discourse on what he termed “Palaces of the People,” while these are the palaces housing “The President’s Gardens,” we see Al-Ramli articulating through his characters: “…His Excellency says they are palaces for the people, for he loves the people and the people love him. They also present an honorable image of us and demonstrate to foreign guests visiting our country the extent of the dignity in which the Iraqi people live…”

In this paragraph, despite its simplicity, it reinforces this dimension of detachment from reality, both for the people and even for the president. Both parties look to flaunt in front of each other, giving the impression that not only will the people be buried within these gardens that they perceive as prestigious, but the president as well.

Memory as a Sanctuary

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