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Arabic literature -- Translations, Arabic literature -- 21st century


Closing His Eyes (Ighmadh al-‘Aynayn) is a collection of seventeen short stories written between 2003-2007. It is the fourth and latest collection of short stories by Iraqi novelist, literary critic and short story writer Luay Hamza Abbas (published by Azmina, Amman, 2008). Through this collection, Luay Hamza Abbas’ talent as a storyteller has been acknowledged with national and international awards. The most recent of these is the Iraqi Ministry of Culture Award for Creative Short Story (2010) for his story bearing the title of the collection. “Closing His Eyes” has also won the Kikah Best Short Story Award in London in 2006.

Abbas’ literary works began to attract the attention of Iraqi and Arab literary critics since the appearance of his first collection of short stories, On a Bicycle at Night, in 1997 and his novel, The Prey, in 2005. Abbas has created for himself a singular voice within the contemporary literary scene in Iraq for numerous reasons. His ability to locate the textual balance between imaginary and factual events allows his fiction to portray the experience of war and to historicize the subjective encounter with violence and death without reiterating political events or explicitly invoking the often-employed symbols of Iraqi authoritarianism. Space, public and private, as a key component of human identity also receives a particularly complex treatment in Abbas’ fiction. This attentive and successful treatment of space, coupled with the introduction of subtle elements of magical realism, has not been witnessed in Iraqi literature, in my opinion, since Muhammed Khudayyir’ Basrayatha (1996). His voice is one of the most important literary voices to have emerged in Iraq during the post-Saddam era.

The stories of the collection offer multiple articulations of the everyday violence lived by ordinary people in Iraq during the past decade. Without sacrificing its spatial or historical particularity, Abbas was able in these stories to portray the Iraqi experience as a universal one of fear, disillusionment, nihilism and liminality. Through minimalist sketches of nebulous characters who transgress various Iraqi spaces like apparitions, without fully inhabiting them, Abbas paints the shifting, tenuous contours of the collective identity in a country that has gradually but chronically lost its quotidian stability and cultural definiteness. Ambiguity and abstraction are the qualities that distinguish Abbas’ short works in this collection. The duality of dream and reality, of lucidity and delirium, and the absence of direct references to names of historical events and places all provide for a literary context where the subjective experience of violent death—unjustified murder in particular—is masterfully communicated.


Originally appeared in Jadaliyya. May be found at Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2014 by the Arab Studies Institute.

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