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Of Alienation and Displacement

Susan Visvanathan

By Haifa Zangana
Women Unlimited (an associate of Kali for Women), New Delhi, 2012, pp. 167, Rs. 375.00

Edited by Penny Johnson & Raja Shehadeh
Women Unlimited, Delhi, 2012, pp. 202, Rs. 395.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 2-3 February/March 2013

Haifa Zangana writes authoritatively as survivours do of the Baghdad which she knew both in childhood, and as a political prisoner, whose Left radicalism represented the right of the young to ask questions of their rulers. As a prisoner, who uses her habitation wherever she is, to describe the condition of the oppressed, where war and civil rights are desperate cohabitationists, she uses the jigsaw puzzle of narrative and memories to write of the years spent by her people under despotism. She writes, Torture has left a deep scar on our collective memory, and death by torture was not an unusual fate for radical activists in Iraq. We wanted to put an end to this, but we failed. The war and occupation in 2003, apart from shattering Iraq as a country and people, has brought about many more im-prisonments, many more deaths. Abu Ghraib is only one of many symbols. In occupied Iraq, torture became an instrument of humiliation and a way to force a nation into submission. As we resist the occupation now, our message is clear. We did not struggle for decades to replace one torturer with another. (p. 5,6) In some of the stories she tells, the details of torture essentially capture the way in which the tactile memory of the writer oscillates between the warm loving spaces of happy childhood and yet plumbs the depths of the psyche. Can the survivor believe that the two worlds can be juxtaposed? In the narrative of the human body they are intertwined. Her account of surviving a prison sentence where she remains captive with murderers and prostitutes is terrifyingly sordid. She captures their common humanity, like lunatics in a medieval ship. Over the years, Um Wahid had accumulated many aluminium plates, pans, spoons, pillows, clothes and blankets. Being there for such a long time, she was the official recipient of the prisoners’ leftovers, the things they did not want to take with them upon release, their reminders of prison (p.107). And then, freed from it all, the Survivor has moments of total regression. In a crowded street, in a cosmopolitan world, she suddenly squats, remembering only the past, or rather, falling into the catatonic trance that blots the past. It includes the inability to give of oneself, to positively tonsure the head in memory of pomegranates growing in an ancient plot of land of the past, to be unable to move ...

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