El Pais reviews Sinan Antoon’s “Ave Maria”, published by Turner, Spain
Sinan Antoon is another original voice of this new Iraqi narrative. He graduated in English Philology in Baghdad, and moves to New York in the early nineties, where he is a university professor and from where continues his umbilical relationship with Arabic literature. While he defines himself as a poet (heir to a rich and unknown tradition that has its modern references in Badr Shakir Al Sayyab, Saadi Yousef and Sargon Boulos), his novel “Ave Maria” was shortlisted to the International Prize of Arabic Fiction (Arabic Booker Arabic) in 2013, and has been recentely published in Spanish, by the new Turner Kitab Collection, dedicated to the new arabic fiction.
Antoon’s novel, beautifully translated by Maria Luz Commedado, offers a portrait of the Christian customs in Baghdad, in the 20th century. The story expresses the awareness that the community is about to disappear, and focuses on the radical character of the Iraqi Arab Christianity. Two characters, Maha and Yusuf, embody the past and the future, while their mutual incomprehension shows that the society is adrift. The personal solution of exile leads to collective suicide, while staying does not guarantee survival.
Although all the narration takes part within the Christian community, Antoon’s novel also shows the splendour of an Iraq that has disappeared: a vigorous cult, with no sectarian concerns.