The Baghdad Eucharist by Sinan Antoon is your new homework – yes, yes, your new reading assignment. If you prefer reading in Arabic, pick up a copy of Ya Maryam. If English, and Arabic are not your thing, then contact Hoopoe Fiction to beg for a translation in French (you can find a Spanish copy).
What’s it about?
Put most simply, “The Baghdad Eucharist is an intimate story of love, memory, and anguish in one Christian family.” <<Thanks Amazon>>.
Taking place over the course of a day, we see Baghdad from the perspectives of the elderly (Youssef) and the young (Maha). What makes this worth reading are the powerful descriptions of the people who make up Youssef’s world – his sister, Hibba, his other siblings and his drinking companions.
Moreover, it dismantles the single story of Baghdad as a place where Sunni-Shiite divides allegedly reign supreme, and for this reason alone it should be required for every American who dares utter the phrase “Who cares? they’ve been fighting for hundreds of years.”
The Baghdad Eucharist screams nostalgia in the best ways, after all Maha accuses Youssef of living in the past, – the ways I often feel myself reaching for when I try to talk to my students about date palms (coincidently, there are plenty of mentions in Antoon’s novel), the power of community, and of place. Instead of hearing my thoughts on the richness of culture or the incredible importance of the date, they usually hear “blah blah sectarian violence. blah blah arabic word,” and then go off to whatever place in the world they inhabit. Antoon, as to be expected, once again captures everything I can’t.
So in the Spring, I’ll be assigning The Baghdad Eucharist. In the meantime, I’ll be reading my well worn copy of I’jaam, one of Antoon’s other novels, and a much more compelling read than 1984.