الحفيدة الأمريكية، انعام كحه جي / The American Granddaughter by Inaam Kachachi

ag1In November we’re reading الحفيدة الأمريكية، انعام كحه جي / The American Granddaughter by Iraqi author Inaam Kachachi, which was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009. It was translated by Nariman Youssef.

A brief summary of the book from IPAF:
The American Granddaughter depicts the American occupation of Iraq through the eyes of a young American-Iraqi woman, who returns to her country as an interpreter for the US Army. Through the narrator’s conflicting emotions, we see the tragedy of a country which, having battled to emerge from dictatorship, then finds itself under foreign occupation.”

ag2Here are a couple reviews (spoiler alert!) from Jadaliyya and Banipal, and some related thoughts on translation from M. Lynx Qualey.

We’ll meet to discuss on Sunday, January 20th 2013.

*UPDATE: Thoughts from our discussion after the jump.

Our discussion of The American Granddaughter centered around several points:

  • Are the characters believable, or do they seem more like caricatures? Particularly Zeina before coming to Iraq, her American boyfriend, the other Arab translators. Is the caricature of American characters an intentional device, or can it be attributed to the fact that Kachachi has never lived in the United States?
  • How does Zeina compare to the other female characters and female protagonists we have read? Some readers found her to be one of the better written female characters – she was the primary character, not a foil or sex object for the men, the book focused on her transformation, and men and romance were secondary concerns for her at best.
  • Zeina’s evolution as a character seems to be structured by her relationship with language. In the beginning, her support for America was closely tied to her belief in slogans from Fox News about ‘bringing democracy to Iraq’ and ‘helping the people of Iraq,’ while later her connection with Mohayman is based on their mutual love of poetry and his understanding of the Arabic expressions she uses – unlike her American boyfriend. Zeina’s writing of her journal on the computer also plays a role in her self-reflection and personal growth. Ultimately, her sense of belonging either as an American or an Iraqi is structured by and tied to language itself.
  • Who is ‘the author’ / الكاتبة, who features as another character in the book – does this represent Inaam Kachachi? Or is Zeina referring to herself as an author, who writes her notes on her computer at the end of each day?  Some readers hoped this conflict had been expanded upon – ultimately, is it an effective device in the book?
  • How can we contextualize this book amongst other post-colonial literature? Classic postcolonial literature, including books we have read like Season of Migration to the North and Beer in the Snooker Club, feature characters who grow up in the Middle East, travel to the West, and then experience conflicting identities. Zeina has the opposite trajectory, growing up in America and traveling to Iraq, which is where her search for identity begins.
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