Saturday, 10 October 2020

The American Granddaughter by Inaam Kachachi

The American Granddaughter by Inaam Kachachi
First published in Arabic as Al-Hafida al-Amreekeya in Lebanon by Dar Al-Jadid in 2008. English language translation by Nariman Youssef published by Interlink on the 1st October 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Winner of France's the Lagardere Prize.
Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
Raises important questions about identity, belonging, and patriotism. 

In her award-winning novel, Inaam Kachachi portrays the dual tragedy of her native land: America's failure and the humiliation of Iraq. The American Granddaughter depicts the American occupation of Iraq through the eyes of a young Iraqi-American 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.

At the beginning of America's occupation of Iraq, Zeina returns to her war-torn homeland as an interpreter for the US Army. Her formidable grandmother - the only family member that Zeina believes she has in Iraq - gravely disapproves of her granddaughter's actions. Then Zeina meets Haider and Muhaymin, two "brothers" she knows nothing of, and falls deeply in love with Muhaymin, a militant in the Al Mehdi Army. These experiences force her to question all her values.

I loved this book so much! When Interlink offered me a review copy of The American Granddaughter I did initially have reservations because I have read quite a few novels set within American-occupied Iraq so I was concerned that Inaam Kachachi's story might be too similar to them. How wrong I was! The American Granddaughter does, of course have some overlap in its physical locations such as the formerly beautiful palaces I learned about from The President's Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli, but the central focus on Zeina's torn identity makes for a unique and powerful read. Through her eyes I was given an opportunity to see Iraq at that time from both the Iraqi and the American perspective simultaneously. I loved Kachachi's concept of The Writer wanting to steer Zeina's story into a more traditionally Iraqi direction while the realities of her situation perpetually leave her stranded with, metaphorically speaking, one foot each side of the fence.

Zeina's grandmother, left isolated in her home after her extended family have all scattered across the globe, is a poignant character, but never a woman to be pitied. I was moved by her distress on realising that the granddaughter she has longed to see again is now within reach, but that the Iraqi teenager who emigrated cannot easily be found within the American woman who returned. I felt that the grandmother representing historic Iraqi culture before Saddam was an important reminder that imposing one nation's ideals carte blanche onto other nations is never a good idea. 

Inaam Kachachi, for me, is now one of the strongest Iraqi voices and I am grateful to be able to read her work in this accomplished English translation. I particularly appreciated aspects such as the romantic potential between Zeina and Muhaymin being portrayed through an almost chaste Arabic lens. Focusing on meaningful glances and disrupted conversations seemed to intensify their emotion. I would highly recommend The American Granddaughter to readers who enjoyed The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi or Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Inaam Kachachi / War fiction / Books from Iraq

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