OSE Literature Seminar: Ahdaf Soueif in conversation with Inaam Kachachi

Inaam Kachachi at the OSE literature seminar. Photo by Stephan Röhl.

Inaam Kachachi writes about her country, Iraq, about the stories of ordinary people, about a grandmother who doesn’t accept that her granddaughter works as a translator for the American army. “I write about how the political situation enters inside the families and divide people,” says Kachachi, “I am trying to explain to myself what has happened, how we lost Iraq,” and adds after a pause, “will I ever go back to this Iraq?” The main character in her novel The American Granddaugther is a grandmother: “there’s always old ladies in my writing, I believe in their memories” says Kachachi, emphasising on the great need to share this memory and write stories. “When you work so many years in journalism” she says,”you always have notes, pieces of paper in your drawer, and they can always find their way into your articles. When you get older you have accumulated a little treasure that can be used in a novel.” Ahdaf Soueif notes that Kachachi was indeed taking notes when they were driving to the seminar venue earlier, “but there were just trees around. Were you inspired by the trees?” Kachachi answers a bit embarrassed that she had cut off her hearing aid to shut herself out of the conversations that were going on in the car, which made Soueif and the whole audience burst into laughter. “The first time I received the hearing aid from my doctor and put it on I thought, oh my god, I can hear all these horrible sounds, cut it off!” The writing in the car had nothing to do with the forest but with Soueif’s noise said Kachachi jokingly. “Well, if I triggered something coming to your next novel, I should be glad” added Soueif, setting a really agreeably informal and warm atmosphere to this already pretty interesting conversation.

The main character of The American Granddaughter, Rahma is a combination of many women: Kachachi’s grandmother, her aunts and other women resembling her. “As a journalist, I got to write about facts, now I write about fiction. The problem in Iraq is that reality is even more than fiction. I need to see somebody when writing so I copy several women to make one.”

Soueif and Kachachi went on in the conversation talking about the state of diversity that existed in the Arab countries until recently. “I grew up [in Iraq] without being asked what I was” says Kachachi, “in Paris, people would ask if you are Shiite or Sunni. I think it isn’t a question to ask in a civil society. Now I feel the need to say I’m Christian because people need to understand the diversity that was in Iraq.” When a participant mentioned that the urge of having rigid lines between religions is very much present in Muslim countries, Soueif responds that it happens now and hasn’t started in Muslim countries, “these are imported ideas that have taken roots. We hope that if the political problem is fixed, we will move back to this diversity” then she adds, “but we’re novelists, not historians.”

Inaam Kachachi explains that she became a novelist out of a frustration: “over thirty years that I lived in Paris, Iraq was and is being shown as a place of conflict, suicide bombings, execution, war… I wanted to write about the civilian society, to say that this country was a place where people would dream to live in. Iraq is an ancient civilisation that has a natural treasures. The destiny of Iraqis wasn’t to become immigrants, Iraqis are attached to their lands, many are farmers. Seeing five million Iraqis living outside is quite dreadful. There is no hope in the future, you can’t see the “nur”, the light at the end of the tunnel. So I want to tell about the people, about their lives, their contradictions,” and she adds “Everybody has a story to tell.”

Posted on 13/11/2010, in Cultural Relations, Events to check out, Intercultural Dialogue and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thanks, Canan, for sharing all that. We need to hear all the stories that are out there. I’ve got to read her books too!

  2. Dear Sir or Madam,

    I am writing to you on behalf of mrs Inaam Kachachi. As her PA, she asked me to point out that you have made a couple of mistakes in the article. First of all her novel is titled “the American Granddaughter” (and not The American Grandmother).

    Plus, she is really not pleased by the photography chosen to illustrate her page, and kindly asks you to use one of the other pictures taken (preferably a portrait, as it was used for the author authors).

    Should you need to contact me, please do so.

    Thank you again for your help. I hope the changes in the article will be available very soon.

    • Dear Hela
      Thank you for spotting the title mistake and please accept my apologies. It has now been amended.
      I have also selected another photo from the event photographer’s image set. I hope this will please Ms Kachachi.
      Best wishes,

  1. Pingback: OSE Literature Seminar: Ahdaf Soueif in conversation with Robin Yassin-Kassab «

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