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Asian Review of Books on Antoon’s Avec Maria: “Brief but Resonant”

AveMaria-Small [1]Published by Asian Review of Books [2], May 13, 2017

Baghdad is not a city readily associated with Christianity. Nevertheless, a small (and shrinking) community lives there. This brief but resonant novel describes the discrimination and abuse they suffer for their faith as well as offering an important insight into how intolerance (of any religion or lifestyle, not just Christianity) can escalate into violence and even war.

The action covers just one day in the life of Youssef, an elderly Iraqi Christian who has been living alone in the family home since his wife died and other relatives left the country. He has invited a younger, distant cousin, Maha, and her husband, Luay, to lodge in the empty upper storeys of the house after a car bomb destroyed their own apartment.

The three co-exist happily until the evening, on which the novel opens, that Youssef and Maha argue about whether the death sentence handed down on former Saddam Hussein-era foreign minister Tariq Aziz is justified. Maha believes he has been condemned because he is a Christian. Youssef takes the wider view that it is part of a political power struggle, not just religious issues. Maya violently disagrees, accuses Youssef of living in the past and flounces out.

The rest of the book focuses on the next day and its events. They (and the novel) terminate, somewhat inevitably, in a sectarian attack on the Christian church where the three protagonists, their quarrel unresolved, are attending an evening service. Read more [2]

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