Sinan Antoon’s Literary Odyssey between Iraq and the U.S.: Exile, Dissent, Narrative, and Translation

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Alhudhairi, Hussein Ali
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Middle Tennessee State University
ABSTRACT For researchers and scholars interested in literary interactions between the Middle East and the West, Sinan Antoon’s major works—I’jaam, The Corpse Washer, The Baghdad Eucharist, and The Book of Collateral Damage—provide possibilities for fruitful exploration. Antoon’s fiction depicts three aspects of expatriate and diasporic literature: resistance to dictatorship and critical views of war, the influential factors in translation, and the fragmented condition of longing in exile. These issues are discussed in the four chapters of this thesis: “Sinan Antoon as an Idealist Writer,” “Antoon’s Critique of the War and Authoritarianism,” “The Target Language and Translation Proficiency,” and “Exile, Memory, and the Sense of Loss.” Antoon’s experience as a writer under Saddam Hussein’s regime, whose brutality compares to that of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, serves as an example of the fragile and dangerous tensions between the writer and authoritarianism. Antoon criticizes, documents, and highlights many tragic and melancholic instances of the injustice, coercion, and brutality of those in power, in this case events that occurred before, during, and after the first and second Gulf wars. Writers often encourage resistance to despotism by presenting tragic images to their audiences. Their duty is to expose and challenge false ideologies promoted and disseminated through government-sanctioned news and propaganda. Through the act of translation, Antoon’s narratives are transferred from one language and culture to another language and culture. This process of translation is especially interesting in the case of Antoon since he himself is a translator—of some of his own works as well as works by other Arab writers such as the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. This project tracks some of the nuances in Antoon’s and other translators’ translations of Antoon’s works. Antoon, like many expatriate and transnational writers such as Joseph Conrad, Vladimir Nabokov and Paul Bowles, lives in an exilic condition in which the past, called up by memory, consumes and often obscures the present. Nostalgia, oblivion, and time are the main elements in Antoon’s diasporic literature. Three fundamental issues arise in this discussion of Antoon’s work and life in exile: the difference between physical and mental diaspora, the influence of the past on the writer in exile, and the dual identity of the refugee.
English literature, Bilingual education, English as a second language