The World Through the Eyes of Angels by Mahmoud Saeed

Samuel Salter, Zahra Jishi, and Rafah Abuinnab, trs. Syracuse, New York. Syracuse University Press. 2011. ISBN 9780815609919

A prolific writer with nearly thirty novels and short-story collections to his credit, arrested and imprisoned in his native Iraq more than once because of those works, and now living in exile in Chicago, Mahmoud Saeed has produced a plangent and tender tribute to the Mosul he knew in the 1940s and ’50s. The author’s preface narrates the book’s origin: Saeed, saddened by the present violence and destruction in his homeland, observes in happy and peaceful Tijuana a young boy running barefoot on an errand. The sight reminds him of his own poverty-stricken childhood in a city where adherents of the three monotheistic faiths lived harmoniously together, and awakens the desire to write a book that would “serve as a living witness to a people [now] fated to walk in bitter darkness.”     

The World Through the Eyes of Angels triumphantly succeeds in recapturing lost time. In a dozen interlinked short stories, sometimes incorporating meditations upon memory and the past, a sensitive and intelligent boy lives through childhood and adolescence. Although Saeed insists upon the harshness of his young alter ego’s life—he is obliged to run errands in Mosul’s searing heat and subjected to physical abuse at the hands of his elder brother—the stories’ tone, if anguished at unpredictable loss and untimely death, is still gentle, brooding, nostalgic.

The most important stories deal with the three women the protagonist loves and loses. The Muslim Selam, living penniless with her sick mother, offers the boy water. An idyllically innocent relationship ensues, which comes to an abrupt end when girl and mother disappear without warning. (In the closing paragraphs of the book, the narrator expresses grief that his younger, oblivious self took no action to save the pair: Selam must have lived, or died, wretchedly.) The opulent beauty of the Christian Madeleine teaches him about the sexual power of women; her end reveals the plight of those who lose their virginity outside marriage in a traditional society. The Jewish Somaya, never forgotten, is doomed to an early death because of bone cancer.

The narrator, in addition to lamenting his failure to help Selam, feels guilty that he did not record the irreplaceable knowledge of Mosul’s history possessed by an illiterate storyteller. Saeed, having here preserved in literary aspic the life of Mosul’s poorer sections from seventy years ago, need have no such regrets.  

M. D. Allen
University of Wisconsin, Fox Valley





About mahmoudsaeediraq

I am an Iraqi writer. I came to the USA in 1999, and I got politic asylum. Since that time I am living in Chicago, Illinois. I have written more than 20 novels and short story collections and hundreds of articles. Some of my novels were destroyed by Iraqi regimes. I have won awards in Iraq, Egypt and the United States. I also have won awards for short stories, one in Iraq and the second in UAE. I worked in Iraq as a high school teacher teaching Arabic literature. I was imprisoned six times between 1959 and 1980. I was dismissed from my job for three years, so I went to Morocco and I worked there as a high school teacher. I wrote about last time in prison as novel titled, "I am the one who saw." This novel was translated to English by Dr. Sadri (a professor of Lake Frost University) and published in Al Saqi house publishing company in London by the name of "Saddam City." The New York Public Libraries listed my novel as one of the best novels of the last century. Amnesty international chose 37 writers from all over the world, including me, to celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We wrote short stories, and the collection was published in London, USA, Canada, Spain, and Turkey. It was translated in more than 20 languages. MAHMOUD SAEED, Chicago, Illinois
This entry was posted in مقالات نقدية بالإنكليزية عن أعمال محمود سعيد - Reviews in English About Mahmoud's Works. Bookmark the permalink.

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